Accidental Critic: Church of the Informed Citizen


These are confusing and uncertain times, politically. Here in the U.S., we live in a country divided, a chasm separating left from right, urban from rural, sister from brother. It’s enough to make many of us avoid the news, avoid our social media feeds, avoid both conflict and anything that reminds us how little we understand about many of our fellow citizens.

That’s dangerous. We need more understanding, not less, if we are to make sense of our country and change it. And regardless which side of the political spectrum is yours, we need at least to be able to understand each other’s positions and situations.

We also need to monitor current events in order to hold our government accountable to our wishes. Whether or not you voted for this president, he represents you and is answerable to you. He works for you. If you don’t know what he is doing or planning, then you cannot influence it and you cannot hold him accountable.

What that means is that we need more news in our lives, not less.

Despite this president’s ongoing attempts to smear the news media, journalists are not enemies of the people. They are our ears and eyes on government. They are a critical and much-needed player in this and any democracy. That is why freedom of the press is built into our Constitution.

Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.
– Thomas Jefferson

I believe citizens have an obligation to follow the news. And yet it’s hard. We’re busy people, and too often the news can feel overwhelming. But that’s all the more reason to read it; the more we hide from a world that we dislike or that scares us, the worse it gets. Improvement—change—starts with knowledge.

A new form of Sunday worship

Several weeks ago, I called on my friends and myself to brace ourselves to read more news, not less, and to make ourselves more informed, more aware, and more knowledgeable. Since then, every Sunday, I have offered up my home as a newspaper reading salon, with an open call for friends to bring their newspapers (digital or print), share my subscriptions, and read the news together. Discussion is optional, but welcome. The idea is to encourage all of us to become better informed and thus better able to engage in and protect our democracy.

Uptake has been slow so far, which I expected. Most weeks we have had no guests, but we have had as many as three at once. Many more people have said they hope to join us in the future. And many of our distant friends have lauded the idea from afar. But regardless whether anyone comes, my husband and I have sat down together for three hours each week and done nothing but read and discuss the news. We are better informed. We are more engaged. We are better citizens.

Will you join us?

I’ve suggested to friends who don’t live near enough to join my family on Sundays that they start their own newspaper reading/discussion group. I offer the same suggestion to you. Whether on Sundays, Fridays or during the week, set aside a dedicated time to read the newspaper, and invite your friends to join you. The invitation to others is important both because it builds community and encourages others to action, and because it forces you to honor your own reading commitment. (Also, it provide an incentive to clean the house.)

Wherever you are, whatever your political leanings, commit to make yourself a more informed citizen. Your country and your community need you. And I think that you’ll find you feel better about yourself as well. It’s good for you, good for your community, good for your state, good for your nation. There really isn’t a downside.

The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a state.
– John Adams, with Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin

 

KimTankMich-eilKim Kishbaugh is no kind of artist at all, but a lover of art in many different forms. She travels through life with an open mind and open eyes in search of magic, and sometimes finds it. She is Escape Into Life‘s social media editor and a long-time journalist with an unsettling history of seeing the companies she works for go out of business. She blogs occasionally at kkish.net.


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