Toward the end of Disney/Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” food critic Anton Ego tells his server, “You know what I'm craving? A little perspective. That’s it. I’d like some fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective.”
Ego was seeking a meal that would provide insight into the buzz created by a new chef at an old restaurant. He got it, along with some eye-opening and outlook-changing surprises.
Perspectives are in abundance today. Like navels, everyone has one. Like meals, they can be well-rounded, thought-out gourmet fare or they can be grab-it-while-it’s-hot slop. Both can fill you up, but only one will nourish you.
We all have our own ingrained biases, built on our life experiences, our family relationships, our socio-economic status, our work and social associations and more. No singular thing creates our views of our communities and our world. What is important is to know not only what we believe in, but also why we believe it. Often, our beliefs are based on comfort; we embrace the ease of sticking with what we were told and sold in our youth rather than taking on the hard work of better informing ourselves to challenge our preconceived notions of the world and how it works.
The explosion of the internet has provided a 24/7 broadcast platform for anyone with an agenda. There was a time when credentials, talent and intellect were the tickets needed to gain an audience; now, all it takes is a smartphone and an ill-informed rant aimed at a service worker who is merely trying to earn a living. The fact that there is a game show in which contestants eat foods so spicy it makes them vomit is proof enough that anything can be considered “content” today.
Each day, we are presented with a dump truck full of stories, facts, innuendos, half-truths and flat-out lies, and it is important to take the time to determine what is worth consuming and sharing. A basic tenet of media literacy is understanding that those who create messages are trying to get you to behave in some way: They want you to buy something, act in a certain way (including voting) or believe something. When you consider the source, you can determine their motivation; when you know their motivation, you can weigh how much validity their message holds.
A good test for the validity of information is three points of contact. If you read reports from three separate sources, the facts that are common in all three are believable. Keep in mind that applies to journalists and media outlets that generate original content, not just “repeater” accounts and sites that compile and amplify information that fits with the agenda their owners are promoting. It also is true that no single platform or source has a monopoly on the truth. One YouTube video espousing a theory no one else is supporting should not be the cornerstone of your knowledge or beliefs.
It also is vital to value expertise. For the past couple of decades, there has been a push to give equal weight to both sides of an issue, even if one side is based on science, facts, research and experience and the other is grounded in little more than “I don’t like that” or “that goes against what I want to believe so it can’t be valid.” As a society, we would benefit from a return to appreciation for intellect, rather than the current disdain for knowledge and celebration of selfishness.
After completing his meal and meeting the chef who prepared it, Ego writes, “There are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.” Pursuing biased information that allows you to remain in the comfort of your old perspectives not only prohibits personal growth, it feeds regression. We benefit when we all move forward together, and that starts with understanding whose messages are preventing that.