Whether you follow me online or not, you’ll soon learn that I am passionate about human rights issues. Well, I’m passionate about solving these issues. I have a lot to share because writing is my ultimate outlet for discerning my feelings about anything. I often share what I’ve discovered because I believe my voice holds value.
And I believe your voice is important, too. Even if you’re out here to sell stuff on Etsy, you want to find a job, or you’re a stay-at-home parent.
You don’t have to be a legislator to have an important voice and use it. If you’re a citizen, you get to have a voice.
But with all the information we can access on our phones, it’s become really difficult to discern fact from “alternative fact.” So whether you’re new to this or you consider yourself a lifelong learner, here are some guidelines I use to formulate my own opinions, interact with other people, and ultimately seek solutions to life’s many problems.
1. Get your news from multiple reliable resources
Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook are good places to know that something has happened but it should not be your only destination. Reliable websites should share information as-is without a spin or ulterior motive. Here are just a few helpful websites:
- The Washington Post’s Fact Checker
- Ground News
2. Value primary resources
A primary resource is essentially a person speaking strictly for themselves or giving an account of their own experience. A secondary resource is someone’s interpretation of the events or a person’s character.
You must scrutinize secondary resources to ensure their intentions are pure and ethical. For example, if I want to know what the Democratic Party stands for, I would talk to the average Democrat; I would not talk to a Republican or Independent—especially an individual who strongly disagrees with Democrats. The same goes for any person or organization.
Even if you don’t like certain groups or individuals, your position or argument is stronger if you at least understand how they describe themselves first without anyone’s spin on it.
3. Avoid resources with biased language
A news article should be able to clearly get right to the point. The moment they use euphemisms, slurs, nicknames, or any other indication of bias, this resource might not be good enough.
4. Back up your claim or perspective with multiple sources.
If you can find at least three good resources that confirm a fact (and they also have resources to support their claims), then you can likely trust what they’re saying.
5. Diversify your following
As you know, the US is made of many different kinds of people. You’re more likely to find and read more primary resources if you follow many different kinds of people.
I’d recommend following journalists, LGBTQT+ folks, people of other faiths, people of different races, scientists, all kinds of religious leaders, atheists, activists, folks with all kinds of disabilities, poor people, parents, local politicians, and more. Let these people speak for themselves rather than let other groups speak for them.
You’re essentially gathering experiences and perspectives that could qualify as primary resources.
6. Ask questions and come ready to learn
If you approach your social media use with meekness and humility, you will attract people who will want to help you understand a topic or debate. Ask them for resources to read on your own time.
Social media can and should be a place where we exchange information, ideas, and experiences. It does not have to be hostile. Feel free to stop a conversation if it becomes less of an exchange of ideas and more of an exchange of personal attacks.
7. Analyze the true intention
Even if someone has a blue check next to their name, it doesn’t mean they are always a good resource. How do you feel when you interact with them? The main difference is what the person wants you to feel or how they want you to react. Are they purposefully using triggering, divisive, or pessimistic language? Do they want you to distrust or hate other groups of people? Or, do they want you to find common ground, use your agency to help your community, or see you as a valuable human being?
Note: some people use blunt language that may hurt your feelings or make you uncomfortable. This is common but just because someone is yelling doesn’t mean they’re mean. I’d recommend looking up the term tone policing to ensure you look past the tone and analyze the argument.
8. Be willing to unlearn some things
It’s hard to unlearn things you have learned but it just means you have an opportunity to grow. As a human being, you are allowed to change your mind or shift your worldview as many times as you want. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or you’re wishy-washy.
We believe in growth and change. It may mean giving up false information or assumptions. It’s not a fun process but it means that you will be perceptive to more factual information and you will likely be more exposed to viable solutions.
An example would be wondering how to celebrate Columbus Day or Thanksgiving after truly learning about the mass genocide of Native Americans. It’s certainly not fun to realize that Columbus did a lot of terrible, immoral things. Many states choose to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead; this is an appropriate way to unlearn some things and grow from it.
Some of these things you’ll unlearn will be stereotypes or assumptions that you learned from people close to you. Even if these people are good and honorable, they will not be experts in someone else’s experiences. Letting things go means believing primary sources and giving more scrutiny to other types of sources.
9. Set healthy boundaries
Part of being open to all kinds of viewpoints means setting boundaries. Otherwise, it’ll feel like drinking from a firehose. It can be detrimental to your mental health if you’re exposed to the news 24/7. Commit to an hour of research a day, for example. If you find harmful resources, block them or unfollow them so you spend your time reading neutral, constructive information.
Also, don’t engage with every person online. There are accounts and bots whose sole purpose is to sow seeds of discontent, malice, and hate. They do not deserve your time because they are not interested in meaningful discussion. Their motive is to upset average folks and they “win” when you take the bait and argue with them. They cannot be reasoned with, so spend your energy on folks who want to learn from you.
If you feel strongly about something, it’s not your responsibility to prove to everyone that you are right. It’s more important to know what you believe in your heart no matter what naysayers will say. This will mean bowing out of fruitless arguments and not having the last word. It sucks but you don’t have to “win” every battle to win the war.
10. Value the free press
The moment we lose the freedom of the press or freedom of speech, we are really in trouble. The press is not perfect because it’s conducted by imperfect people. However, I’d rather see extreme news sources like Breitbart exist rather than no news sources at all. I’d rather see a range of political beliefs than only have government-sanctioned media.
Do not gravitate towards people who say “you can’t believe the news” because it’s very likely that the news is exposing them for who they are and they don’t like it. Besides, if they don’t trust the news, where are they getting their information? Are they journalists who travel all over the country? Did they witness all the various tragedies in this country in person? It’s unlikely that they are following the other guidelines listed here, so wish them a good day and move
11. Refresh yourself on logical fallacies
Often, people hide behind logical fallacies to protect the information they wish was true. For example, if I met a mean Republican, it would be unfair and untrue for me to say “all Republicans are mean.” It’s unfair because that statement is hyperbolic and a major assumption. I haven’t met every Republican and I didn’t consult any data to make that unfair statement.
Here’s a list of all fallacies. Avoid using them and avoid people who rely on them. You can tell someone is hiding behind a logical fallacy when you repeatedly ask them “why?” to get to the real point. At some point, you’ll expose a bias they don’t want to let go of.
A distant cousin of logical fallacies is “whataboutism.” Essentially when someone responds with “Well, what about ___?” they are steering the conversation away. That’s a red herring, which is a type of logical fallacy. Resist the urge to give in to that distraction and stick with the issue or topic at hand.
12. Avoid hot takes
A hot take may remind you of the phrase “hot off the press.” But a hot take is essentially your initial, fresh response to a news headline. We see explosive news stories every day. Follow the other guidelines listed here before solidifying your opinion. We almost always need to wait for more information to avoid claiming something we may regret.
We have instant access to other people’s opinions but that doesn’t mean we have to offer an instant opinion, either. Your analysis of a problem will be more logical if you ponder all the information and calmly form an opinion.
More importantly: if you share a hot take and realize you weren’t completely correct, please share that correction and apologize. We need to see more apologies and humility online. It’s okay to admit that you jumped the gun as long as you establish the real truth, too.
13. Have hope in something
If you want to be perpetually miserable, then follow pessimistic folks who tout that your vote or voice doesn’t matter. Keep following people who shrug and say that things are too complicated and there’s no real solution. If someone dissuades you from learning or taking action, they likely want you to feel immobilized so they can continue to push their agenda undeterred.
If there is a problem, there is always a solution. There’s always a way out. Some problems are more complicated than others but it’s worth it to try. Part of solving human rights issues is to take steps towards a better future.
Have hope that you can make a difference, even if your actions aren’t public or grandiose. I see it every day—people use their voices and actions to lift up other people. You are creating ripples that will affect everyone around you.
I strongly urge you to avoid people who only share information to dim your shine or make you feel insignificant. Who benefits from your silence? Always ponder the motives behind every statement.
So there you have it! This is my go-to list of guidelines for fearlessly seeking the truth. Do you have more ideas that I should add? What has especially helped you? I’d love to hear your input in the comments or on social media.