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NASH COLUMN: We form opinions in many ways
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NASH COLUMN: We form opinions in many ways

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Since this is an opinion page, I thought I’d write about opinions: how we form them; when they can be dangerous; and the tools we can use to base them on facts and reality.

Our first opinions often come from our parents, other caregivers and friends. As we mature, we experience other people and things that influence our opinions: teachers, travel, education, the media and research.

Every time I traveled, I learned new things that influenced how I thought about certain issues. As I mentioned before, traveling through Georgia in the early 60s showed me the cruel reality of racism and segregation. Living in the mountains of North Carolina in the late 1970s, when our children were bullied on the school bus for being “Yankees,” showed me the results of the Civil War were still being felt there.

In Germany, I saw how the effects of two world wars were still evident in 1964. For example, the grandmother next door wouldn’t step out of her house until she scanned the skies for airplanes. I learned that was because British and American forces had often bombed the area during World War II. Yet, she and her family liked Americans. Their opinions were formed by her son-in-law and his best friend who had both been captured by Americans during WWII and sent to U.S. prisoner-of-war camps. They said it was the first time they’d had warm clothing and enough food since the beginning of the war, so they were thankful to America for helping them.

Also in Germany, where there were no vacant lots, I learned the value of land. Although many Americans have lawns, the Germans used the land in front and behind their homes to grow food. They’d learned the value of growing things during and after wars that resulted in food shortages and depression. I appreciated that knowledge even more when we lived on our farm in far-northern Minnesota where we grew, raised and preserved almost all of our own food.

When I lived in Canada, I learned their media was often anti-American, portraying all of us as materialistic people who didn’t care about anything but shopping and taking over the world. Their news media was constantly attacking President George W. Bush and other Americans, but that wasn’t all.

A Canadian comedy show called “Royal Canadian Air Farce” had the same type of format as “Saturday Night Live,” except it constantly made fun of Americans. One evening, at a college graduation ceremony, I confronted a member of its comedy troupe who’d delivered a speech there that included attacks against Americans. Afterward, I told her I’d lived in the U.S. for 60 years and never once heard an American show make fun of Canadians, yet after only a couple of months in Canada, I’d heard them disparage and make fun of Americans more times than I could count. She stomped away, apparently not wanting her opinion to be challenged. Meanwhile, my good opinion of the Canadian people didn’t change, but my opinion of its media did.

Most opinions are harmless, like those about food preferences, but some of them can result in actions that hurt innocent people. Prejudice against certain groups is one of the most harmful and is based on fear and misinformation. People in Norway, for example, who follow American news, could easily believe that all Americans are violent and dangerous. We know that’s not true, but that’s how some Americans form their opinions – by the actions of a few in other countries or of people who come from different countries or are of different races or religions.

Thankfully, our harmful opinions are subject to change if we’re willing to broaden our perspectives. That means learning active listening skills; being open to “news” from different media sources that doesn’t just parrot our own beliefs; keeping current on the latest research and guidance from actual experts in their fields; talking and listening to people who don’t always agree with us and learning why they believe the way they do. It may also mean admitting we’re wrong when we’ve based our opinions on conspiracy theories and/or other prejudiced, one-sided, skewed information.

By flipping channels or reading different websites or newspapers, we realize some media sources lie by omission; they refuse to discuss or report anything they don’t want their audiences to know. To see which ones do that, change channels several times during the nightly news and it’ll become obvious.

If we want to heal the dangerous divisions in our country, it’s important for us to understand all sides, and be willing to admit when our ideas are based on flimsy, or nonexistent, evidence. As always, it’s up to us.

Pat Nash has lived in the Baraboo area, off and on, for more than 35 years. Contact her at patnash5149@gmail.com.

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