Sound Bites

Posted: July 30, 2008 in Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Politics

In just a little over three months Americans are going to be heading out to the polls to vote for the next President of the United States. As a result both Presidential hopefuls are going to be pouring millions of dollars into every manner of advertising trying to convince the American public that they’re the best person for the job. Lobby groups are also going to be spending obscene amounts of money on advertising telling us who’s not the best person for the job. And, of course, the news media will also being presenting the American public with their version of the truth.  

I understand how the game works. I realize that each candidate wants to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. And I’m sure that both candidates genuinely believe that they’d make a better President than their opponent.

The biggest gripe I have will all of this hoopla are the sound bites.

One of the candidates will say something, and all of a sudden folks focus in on one specific sentence or phrase and everyone has a field day with it. Then the media goes berserk replaying the same sound bite over and over again.

The problem with sound bites is that the American public seldom takes the time to get the whole story and discover for themselves the context in which something was said. This creates the potential that the idea behind the sentence or phrase can – and often times does – becomes distorted. Subsequently, most folks really don’t know where their candidate stands on any one issue – although most folks believe they do. But their belief is based on incomplete data, which seems to me an unwise manner in which to cast a vote for someone – especially when it comes to the office of President.

Sound bites don’t only occur in politics though. I’m sure most folks can think of numerous times they’ve heard about something someone they know has said. In some instances this can create extreme misunderstandings between folks. But by the time it’s discovered they didn’t get the whole story some possible damage may have already been done.

I have a problem with "sound bites" when it comes to this blog.

I receive my fair share of email from folks who read one of my posts, zero in on one or two sentences and then send me an angry message. While I can appreciate their point of view, even if it disagrees with something I’ve written, I find it somewhat disconcerting that they will build an entire thesis on just a couple of sentences, rather than the entire of the post.

I generally send them a simply reply thanking them for their email. However, they seem to take that as an invitation to continue belaboring the point. And some have gone so far as to send multiple emails to "drive their point" home. But, because I don’t have the time, nor the desire, to engage in fruitless dialogue I just file the emails into their appropriate category without any further response on my part.

We seem to be a sound bite oriented society. I’m not certain why, but perhaps it has to do with the whole idea of multitasking. We don’t take the time to find things out for ourselves. We’re too busy trying to do seventy-five things all at once.

All of this makes me wonder if this is one of the reasons we continue to cling to our misconceptions regarding homelessness. We’re so busy multitasking that we won’t make the time to determine if what we believe about homelessness is based on fact or if it’s based on presumptions and things that others are saying about it.

The majority of folks still believe that all homeless persons have some form of addiction disorder; or are too lazy to go out and get a job; or are homeless as a result of their own actions; or even that they enjoy being homeless.

Admittedly, there are those homeless who do indeed fit the stereotypes. I’ve never denied that fact. Nor have I ever pretended that every homeless person is a saint. Or even that every homeless person wants to become a productive, housed member of the community. But these folks represent a minority of the homeless.

The homeless population is just as diverse as the overall general population. And for good reason, too. Once upon a time they were "housed" members of the community. For whatever reasons, however, they now find themselves homeless. And it is patently unfair to stigmatize all of the homeless simply because a minority of the homeless are "bad apples."

That’s akin to taking a sound bite and believing that you know the whole story; the whole context in which something was said. And sadly, it is believing in something which may not be the "whole truth and nothing but the truth."

We’ve become so contaminated by the sound bite mentality, that it won’t surprise me in the least if someone winds takes just one or two sentences of this post – instead of taking it as a whole – and tries building an entire argument out of that.

What’s sad about that thought is that they will have missed the point.

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