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Young Single Woman

Back in my twenties, when I was wandering through a string of temporary and contract job positions and I had no such thing as benefits (although I worked forty hours per week with each of these jobs), I remember the alarm expressed by one of my friends when she found out I didn’t have health insurance, a 401k, or disability insurance. “What if you get in a car wreck? Do you want to burden your parents with taking care of you?” I had never considered the possibility. I was young, healthy, and earning a living – but now I had to worry about burdening my parents!

You’ll be glad to know that I took her concern to heart and I made an appointment with someone who sold health insurance. One day on my lunch break I went to her office, where she presented me with my options. The plans were laid out on a table, side-by-side, so that I could compare. After seeing the monthly costs, my main concern was catastrophic coverage. It would be a stretch for me to buy this insurance, but I had been fearfully convinced of it’s need, and I could afford only the basic plan, which the insurance lady assured me was all I probably needed.

As we discussed benefits, deductibles, and other new terminology, I asked her about the considerably lower price printed beside the rate she quoted me. “That price is for men your age,” she explained.

I was puzzled. “Why do they pay so much less?” I asked.

“Because they don’t need pregnancy care,” she answered.

“But I’m not married or even in a relationship,” I objected.

“It doesn’t matter. You’re of childbearing age. The coverage is going to be higher for you because you can get pregnant.”

Not only did I probably make less money at my job as my male peers, but now I could see in black and white that I was paying significantly more for my health coverage, and only because I’m female. I burned inside with fury at the injustice. Must women bear every burden of reproduction? If I was being responsible for myself, why did I have to pay more? I couldn’t even afford a plan that included maternity, but I still had to pay more! And if I was paying more because I could get pregnant, why didn’t men pay more because they could get me pregnant?

I mention this now because in the years since that encounter, healthcare has made great strides in addressing women’s needs. As recently as 2012, a 25 year-old woman might pay 81% more in health insurance than a man the same age – even for plans that didn’t include maternity care. But now it is illegal for insurance companies to charge women more than men, and even better, insurance companies are required to include these essential services for everyone:

  • Ambulatory patient services (outpatient care you get without being admitted to a hospital)
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization (like surgery and overnight stays)
  • Pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care (both before and after birth)
  • Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment (this includes counseling and psychotherapy)
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices (services and devices to help people with injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions gain or recover mental and physical skills)
  • Laboratory services
  • Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  • Pediatric services, including oral and vision care (but adult dental and vision coverage aren’t essential health benefits)

Additionally, many employers are now required to accommodate the needs of nursing mothers by giving them a reasonable break time in order for them to pump milk for their babies, and to provide a private space in which to obtain that milk. (And that space cannot be a bathroom – ick!). Not only do breastfed babies benefit from from the antibodies in breastmilk, their decreased risk of developing asthma, allergies, ear infections, respiratory illness, and bouts of diarrhea results in lower healthcare costs for those children and fewer missed work days for their mothers. Over time, what we pay out in preventive care results in lower sick-care costs.

I could say that the gender discrepancy in the insurance rates has been corrected. Indeed, men now pay more for their health coverage. But this leveling of the playing field has an even broader, and more just effect, in that (in theory) all of the adults in our society (who have health care insurance) are now sharing the financial cost of reproduction, which by pregnancy occurs through the body of a woman, with the cooperation of a man, but benefits the wider community as a whole, men, and non-childbearing women alike. Reproduction is a part of life, and societies need healthy babies to be born, educated, and raised to be productive members.

When I was single and looking over those insurance plans, I would not have thought twice about paying that high rate, as long as everyone else had to pay it, too, and it covered necessary services should I have found myself pregnant (whether through my actions or through rape).

Unfortunately, these services that women and their babies have been receiving for the price of their insurance are at risk of being lost. Women may again have to pay more than men for their insurance, and that insurance might not even include maternity care. For as our new president-elect and congress take office, their first order of business is to dismantle the law that brought such important improvements to our healthcare system: the Affordable Care Act. And what’s worse is that they don’t even have a proposal for what will replace the law.

If you want to know more about what you stand to lose, take a look at your protections enacted by the law:

The Affordable Care Act and Maternity: https://www.hhs.gov/healthcare/facts-and-features/fact-sheets/aca-and-maternity-care/index.html

The Patient’s Bill of Rights and other key features of the law: https://www.hhs.gov/healthcare/facts-and-features/key-features-of-aca-by-year/index.html

Resolve

In my twenties I experienced a phase that was personally very empty and frustrating. I’d had a couple of serious relationships that ended, though I had believed each would result in marriage. I’d wandered into a string of temporary job positions not really knowing what I wanted to “do with my life” other than raise a family with the right person. At the end of the year 2000 I had reached the peak of opportunity where I worked, and though I loved my co-workers, I knew it was time to do something different. I remember spending New Year’s day alone in my apartment, a little depressed, and very ready for a change. I built a fire and spent the day assessing the things from the past year that had gone wrong; I listed my regrets on a sheet of paper, and eventually I burned the list in my fire. Then I started a new list – a list of everything that I could think of that I’d like to do. Energized by my new list, I made another list of every contact who could possibly offer a new employment opportunity and I resolved get myself unstuck. I dubbed the year 2001 “The Year of the Yes,” and I made a pact with myself that I had to accept every invitation I received that year, regardless of whether I was comfortable with it, as long as the invitation was safe.

And so began major changes in my life. It was possibly the most important deliberate decision I ever made. Within a month I had a new job in a new city, which was scary, but full of promise. Two months later I found myself on a plane with two girlfriends headed to New York City to stay with another college friend for a four-day weekend. I said yes to every blind date my friends set up for me, and even to a man I met while out jogging my usual evening route. (I still don’t know why that guy asked out a sweaty, frizzy-haired runner, but whatever.) I planned a trip to Italy and started learning conversational Italian. And I met my husband, a stranger who called me up one day asking me to lunch. I never would have said yes without that vow I’d made to myself earlier in the year.

2017 seems like a good year to take another deliberate tack. I can feel the winds of change, and I’ve learned that it’s important to adjust my sails or else be blown over or left behind.

Nothing has shown me more clearly how fragile our democracy is than the still-unfolding story of the United States 2016 election. The fake news stories, the Russian hacking, and the immense anger and frustration of millions of Americans contributed to the election of Donald Trump, a man whose daily reactionary Tweets fill me with unease. Before Trump was elected, the news on the right was full of fear-mongering. Now the news on the left is full of fear-mongering.

It’s a blasé tune.

We aren’t going to get past this mess that has begun unless we learn from our mistakes and deliberately step forward, one day and one conversation at a time, without fear, and without the drama. It’s time to be brave.

So I ask myself what I can do differently this year, armed with this new knowledge, that will unite people rather than further divide?  What difference can I, in my small corner of the world, make? In what ways was I culpable in the past for the state our country is in?  I think the process of discernment is going to continue, but the past few weeks of reflection have shown me at least a couple of points on which to start.

One is recognizing and dismantling the ancient tribalism of us versus them. We all do this. It is as innate as our animal nature. Humans constantly divide each other into subgroups: “He’s a man, so he doesn’t understand me”. “She’s a Republican so we have nothing to talk about.” “They aren’t Christian, so they must be sinners.” “They’re Mexican, so they must be here illegally.” And on it goes. Recognizing it in ourselves is the first step; engaging and finding common ground is the next step. I think I’m pretty good at recognizing it in myself, but engagement is a little harder for me. I have an introverted nature, but that can no longer be an excuse for detachment. Like my “Year of the Yes” I might need a “Year of Engagement” to better connect with others.

Perhaps another starting point is mindful conversation. How many times have I quietly listened to someone talk about something I disagreed with, without offering a different perspective?  Too many, I’m afraid. I don’t like confrontation, but I’m learning that disagreement doesn’t have to be confrontational. And if we are to connect, we have to communicate. There are ways we can ask one another questions in order to dig deeper and find common ground. We usually aren’t as far apart as we think we are, and sharing our different perspectives of a situation provides a more 3-dimensional quality than any of us can get from own singular viewpoints.

These seem like small changes, but with mindful deliberation, they might provide a course correction in my own small life. All any of us can ever really do are small acts rooted in our values. So in the spirit of new year’s resolutions, I’ll summarize and make my declaration, with you, dear reader, as my witness: 2017 will be my “Year of Engagement and Connection.”

Running of the Balls

img_1690Since the election, I’ve had to grapple with my own powerlessness, an uncomfortable but necessary experience we all must face at times in our lives. With each new cabinet appointment I frown as I watch the progress our country has made on climate change, human rights, and expanding healthcare coverage recede. Our recent election serves as a reminder that each of us is a very small person in a big empire. But this knowledge, depressing though it is, needn’t cause despair; I received a happy reminder over the weekend of the goodness of humanity.

About twenty years ago in Greensboro, a man’s daughter was home from college, and she told her dad about a lighted ball she had seen. They re-created the ball out of chicken wire and Christmas lights and hung it in their yard. The ball received attention, so they made more of them. A neighbor joined in, then another neighbor. After a few years, their entire neighborhood was covered in these lighted balls! With all the additional traffic flowing through during the Christmas season, the Smith family decided to use the decorations to draw attention to hunger in our city. They placed a giant trailer in front of their house to collect food and donations for our local food bank, Urban Ministry. Last year the Today show covered the annual Sunset Hills ball-making party, and in recent years other neighborhoods in Greensboro and even other cities have begun decorating with the balls.

But the fun doesn’t stop with decorations. Just last weekend, my family ran in the fifth annual “Running of the Balls” 5K in this bright neighborhood. The race is not for the ultra-competitive. The distance is 5K-ish; it is dark, there are walkers and strollers and dogs, and did I mention that it is dark? Runners wear warm clothes and string themselves with Christmas lights, glow sticks, and sleigh bells. At the start, 3,000 people bounce through the gate sounding like Santa’s reindeer heading off into the night. Several bands play, interspersed along the course, both official bands on stage and random groups of carolers and solo singers. Residents who aren’t running invite friends over and cheer on the runners, standing by fire pits or bundled up in lawn chair clusters. It’s a blast! And it’s one of my favorite seasonal traditions.

My kids enjoy the end of the race the best: the hot chocolate and cookie station. Like I said, this is not a race for the serious competitor! It takes awhile to get through the starting gate, and you end with hot chocolate. I saw groups wearing white tutus (with lights, of course), lots of Santa hats, and reindeer antlers. Proceeds from the race benefit Second Harvest Food Bank, a regional organization that supports local efforts to end hunger.

Shivering with my husband and children before the race began, my heart gushed with emotion. The excitement was palpable as the band played, energizing the crowd. Everyone seemed happy to be there, despite the 30 degree temperature (cold, for Southerners). What had started a few years ago with one lighted ball had become before my own eyes a moving display of love and charity. I do not live in the Sunset Hills neighborhood, but I’ve been a witness to this spread of wholesome cheer, and with each successive year I’m blessed again. As Jonathan Smith said to the News and Record last year, “This is one of those ideas that has become 100 times better than we thought. It makes me see the power in taking one step, in building one ball, in doing something in collaboration with others.”

We might not feel our small actions amount to much globally, but small acts, when multiplied can effect change, while warming hearts and spirits along the way.

Advent Light and Darkness

When I turn on the news lately, I can’t tell which is worse: the fake news, the real news, or the real news resulting from the fake news. Just last week a man from Salisbury, NC drove from his home to Washington, D.C. and entered a restaurant with an assault rifle under the false belief that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring there. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Advent couldn’t come at a better time for America. Advent: the four weeks leading up to Christmas, which are a time of quiet preparation, of penance, of reflection. Looking back at the divisiveness of 2016, I know my soul could use a period of quiet reflection.

Just three days after Thanksgiving, Advent started, along with the rush of madness that our consumer culture pins on Christmas. After the turkey, the family, and the football, my husband and I suddenly were in a frenzy, realizing we were missing that extra week in-between the holidays that helps to get a grip on the upcoming tasks.

The day we returned from our Thanksgiving trip, we purchased our tree and placed it in the window as we do every year. But we wouldn’t have time to decorate it until the following weekend, which meant that I’d be putting on the lights at some point during the week. Several days later, I began my job as Christmas Tree Lighter.

With Christmas music filling the air, I painstakingly wrapped lights around branches for about an hour before stepping back to admire my work. I smiled at the bright tree, when all of a sudden, it went dark before my eyes. All of the lights except for the two older strands I started with at the bottom turned off at the same time! I spent another hour trying to identify and repair the problem, removing one strand, hooking up the remaining strands – which lit up! – only to watch it all go dark again after a few moments. I used two of those Lightkeeper Pro guns, which I began to curse as a gimmick when they didn’t fix any of the strands. At one point, I looked around to see if someone was playing a prank on me – no one’s luck is this bad! I sent my husband to the store multiple times to purchase more lights. Eventually I had to give up in order to make it to an appointment, a Godsend for my psyche.

That night I lay awake in bed trying to figure out what was going wrong with those *^&# lights. The next morning, clearheaded, I resolved to make the tree light up. My previous strategy of removing one strand at a time had failed, and I was left with no choice but to remove every strand and start over. I had to set aside my feelings about it and just do the job. And I had to get rid of the noise; that morning I needed peace and quiet.

I Googled the question, “How many strands of Christmas lights can you plug into one outlet?” Instead of a direct answer such as “8,” Google suggested a math equation including amps, watts, voltage, and number of bulbs on the strand. The equation didn’t consider my 91-year-old house that uses knob and tube wiring, so even if I understood the math, I still had an unknown variable in my wiring.

So by trial and error, I separated the lights and plugged into two separate outlets; I reduced the total number of strands, and hoped for the best. It worked!  I stood and watched awhile to make sure there were no more electrical gremlins out to get me.

My tree-lighting experience this year, frustrating as it was, illuminated the need for me to step back and reassess. I need some quiet, or the noise of the world will overtake me and I’ll lose my direction. The shopping, the news, the pressure of the calendar, all obstruct my perspective if I don’t stop regularly and allow God’s voice to come through. The voice is always there, but I don’t hear it if I don’t listen. If I constantly slog through my to-do lists and treat each day like business as usual, eventually my lights will burn out and I’ll be in the dark, forced at last to reckon with my wiring.

All Americans could all use a little Advent right now – both Christians and non-Christians. We can use this season to turn down the noise and chaos, take a break from social media and the daily sales events, and tune in to the quiet. It can help heal our wounds, it can help heal our relationships, it can calm and offer perspective.

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Map the World

After college, this small-town Southern girl moved to New York City to start my first “real” job; a job that offered a salary, health insurance, and a handful of vacation days. Those were pre-smartphone days. There were no car navigation systems or MapQuest websites to direct me to my destination before traveling. What I had back then, which I actually studied every time I ventured out, was a map of NYC posted on my bedroom wall. I had memorized my most common routes, including possible detours. My biggest fear, having grown up in a two stop-light town, was getting lost in the big city and ending up with a gun to my head, the most likely outcome of getting lost, right?

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Eleven months after I moved there, my parents and sister drove up, and I had planned some fun things for us to do. I drove us from my apartment in Queens to Manhattan (I drove everywhere, even though I knew how to ride the subways in Manhattan). While looking for a parking spot in a safe-enough area to leave my car for the day, I turned down an unfamiliar street. Realizing my mistake, I immediately made a U-Turn, to my screaming family’s horror. “It’s ok!” I reassured them, “That’s not as bad as getting lost here!” (My queasy passengers were NOT reassured.)

We make mental maps wherever we live, even with Siri now easily accessible. Mine tend to have fuzzy edges. I know my usual routes well, but the areas I don’t frequent are blank spaces in my mind. I might have a vague idea of a main thoroughfare, but basically, it’s just a blank space where the lines drop off. I’d like to look beyond my fuzzy borders to find out what I’m missing.

I recently read a book called “Hillbilly Elegy”, by J.D. Vance. The book challenged my notions of poverty and the solutions I’ve long believed would best address it. Mr. Vance, a Yale Law School graduate, was an unlikely Ivy Leaguer, having come from a poor family. In his memoir, he describes the culture surrounding his family, the decline of jobs where he grew up, and the unseen networks and systems that wealthier kids utilize to navigate their way into successful adulthood. While Mr. Vance doesn’t offer a neatly packaged solution to our national wealth disparity, he does paint a picture around one of the blank spaces where the edges of my mental map begin to blur.

I think the road to deeper understanding begins with identifying our fuzzy map edges. Taken literally, I can drive to a section of town I’ve never explored and have a look around. Even this small act can serve to reorient my little corner of the world. I’ll gain a different perspective of something I think of as familiar. Metaphorically, I can pick up another book to gain a view into someone else’s experience. Their experience will inform my own experience, and I can grow in understanding and compassion. Only through understanding and compassion will we ever connect and recognize our shared humanity in each other. Then we can rise above the din of angry voices surrounding us and work together to make our country and our world a better, more heartfelt place to live.

Build a Bridge

With Thanksgiving just a few days away and a deep national divide splitting even close families, folks might be worried about upcoming awkward moments. Some might be feeling reluctant to share a meal together with those who didn’t vote the same way. Sadly, at least one friend I know even changed holiday plans this year to avoid contentious conversations.

I have heard many bewildered people, both Democrats and Republicans, wonder aloud how a man who publicly insults nearly everyone could get elected president? It’s a big question. It seems to be all anyone has talked about since the election. But contrary to the blame cast by some in the media, it doesn’t make your best friend or your aunt racist or xenophobic just because they might have voted for the new president.  Such assumptions cut both ways. Judging a person based on which of the (only) two major party candidates they selected opens the door to judgment on the kind of person you are based on how you voted. It only deepens divisions and misunderstanding.  If we are ever going to heal the wounds in our country, we must first start healing our relationships.

I took this election as a wake-up call. Though not the most popular presidential candidate, Mr. Trump received enough strategic votes to secure the top seat in our government. So what happened? What did I, and so many others miss?

We can read the news reports, we can read books, we can analyze and criticize the Electoral College. While these things have their place, the key to better understanding can be done one-on-one: by asking questions.

I called a friend who I knew voted differently from me to ask some questions. I was genuinely curious to hear what she thought, and I promised at the beginning of the phone call that I would not comment on any of her answers. I did not have a script, and I have never done this before. In fact, I really, really, dislike uncomfortable discussions and feel like it isn’t my best skill. But this person is a dear friend, and I thought she might be able to show me my blind spot.

Our conversation began uneasily. Her first answer was short and maybe a little suspicious of my motives. Then I asked a follow up question instead of arguing with her, and she answered again, and pretty soon my friend was speaking openly and easily with me. I’m not going to lie, it was difficult to stay quiet at times. But listening really worked, because I heard some things I did not know, that I never would have heard, if I had barged in with my own opinions.

If you’d like to come to a deeper understanding about what is going on in our country, perhaps you could try this, too. Here’s what I recommend:

1- Identify a person.  Think of the person you love the most who voted differently than you voted and remember why that person is so special to you. Meditate on this for as long as it takes for you to feel calm – even if it takes days.

2- Schedule a call.  Pick up the phone and call this person to ask if he or she would be game for this kind of discussion. It might even be better to schedule it into two separate conversations: one where the other person speaks (first), then one where you get to speak.

3- Practice humility.  Put yourself in a calm state of mind before you call for your listening appointment. Take a walk, cuddle with your dog, pray. Remember why you love the person you’re calling. Remind yourself that you do not have all the answers; YOU have something to learn from this person.

4- Ask and Listen.  Promise from the start to honor what the other person is saying, even and especially if you disagree with what you hear. Then ask questions and listen. You might have to sit on your hands or physically cover your mouth in order to remain in your listening mode. Do it. You’re not trying to fix the problems with the media or correct all the fake news stories from Facebook with this conversation. You’re only listening.

5- Say thank you and take a breather before it is your turn to speak. You really may need two separate days to do this exercise, because it can really be hard to keep quiet. But do it. It’s worth it.

One conversation isn’t going to change the world. But collectively, each conversation removes one more stone from the wall that separates us, allowing us to use those stones to build a bridge instead.

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Thank You Notes

When my son was three years old, he sat on the potty one day, legs dangling, and called to me in the next room, “Mommy, do you have a penis?”

“No,” I answered.

“Do you want to get one from Penis Lowe’s?” he offered.

At a very young age, my son was noticing our differences and trying to make us the same. After I stopped giggling I told him no, thank you; that I was fine without a penis.

We humans do have different characteristics, but we all share the most important trait: we all have souls. We are all created with dignity, as our forefathers recognized when they wrote the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I am grateful that our early leaders recognized the equality of (white) men. I am grateful for those who fought for the rights of black men to be recognized, and I am grateful for the women who fought for equality and the right to vote.

America hasn’t had an easy road to acceptance; indeed we see latent prejudices surface at times (including now). It’s important that we constantly remind ourselves and each other of our inherent dignity. We can do this with both words and actions, and we can do it with a spirit of love.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

With deep gratitude I’d like to write some thank you notes to certain groups of people who’ve taught me about our shared humanity. These groups have suffered discrimination and have stood strong to declare their dignity despite being labelled “Other” at some point in our history.

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Thank you, African Americans, for teaching me that I’m more than the color of my skin.

Thank you, immigrants and refugees, for teaching me that I’m more than where I was born.

Thank you, gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons, for teaching me that I’m more than who I am attracted to.

Thank you, persons who are transgendered, for teaching me that I’m more than my sexual anatomy and gender identity.

Thank you, persons with disabilities, for teaching me that I’m more than what I can do and think.

Thank you feminists, for teaching me that as a woman I’m more than my ability to bear children and help men reach their potential.

Thank you Jewish people, Muslim people, and others who don’t practice Christianity, for teaching me that I’m more than where I worship.

And while I’m thanking people, I’d like to add a couple more:

Thank you, Democrats and Republicans, for teaching me that I’m more than who I vote for.

And thank you, unnamed man who carded me at the grocery store recently, for teaching me that I’m more than a forty-something lady with graying hair.

There is no them. There is only we. And we are human. Embrace a fellow human today; especially someone who seems “other” in some way.

Exploding Trees

Many years ago I was driving down the highway listening to my favorite station: NPR. It was a segment about how maple trees in New England were exploding at unprecedented rates because they had not been tapped. Pressure mounted in the trees, and maple tree farmers were doing all they could to tap the trees, even though maple syrup sales were at an all-time low due to the low-carb diet fad. Native Americans previously tapped the trees often to prevent the explosions. Robert Siegel interviewed maple tree farmers and gave statistics on how many injuries and deaths there had been due to the exploding trees. In the background were the sounds of footsteps hiking through snow, tree tapping, and a couple of distant explosions.

I arrived at my destination before the end of the story, but for years I thought about exploding maple trees whenever we made pancakes and put out the maple syrup.

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One day the story popped into my head andI told my husband about it. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” he laughed.

“No, it’s true!” I exclaimed. “I heard it on NPR!”

“Shannon, that doesn’t happen. Maple trees don’t explode.”

Determined to prove him wrong and to show how much I (a Southerner) knew about maple trees in New England, I ran to the computer and asked Google. To my utter embarrassment, the story that came up was “April Fool’s: New England Suffers Maple Woes: NPR.”

“What? April Fool’s Day?”

Stephen laughed and laughed, and eventually I did, too. I played the story for him, “See?” I asked. “Doesn’t that sound real?”

I admit this embarrassing story to illustrate the amount of trust we put into our news sources. One thing the months (and even years) leading up to the election has clarified is that there are a LOT of fake news stories out there. They pop up on social media and they appear in some more extreme media outlets. The most difficult stories to spot are the ones that contain some truth or appear in sources that are a mixture of true and fake stories. It is a new age of propaganda that taps into a mood and exploits that mood for the sake of an agenda. It’s been around forever, but it is increasing the divide in America.

Conversations I’ve attempted over the past year have sometimes left me baffled because it feels like we have no common culture anymore, no common storyline. This is an illusion of course; we are all inhabiting the same planet, we are just listening to different, often opposing, voices. Major media outlets have been under scrutiny as well, criticized for being too far left or too far right. But should we throw the baby out with the bathwater?

I’ve been teaching my middle schooler about media, since he now researches his papers online and cites his sources. “How do I know what is a good source?” he asks me.

I explain that first of all, if it sounds too good to be true, it might be false. I tell him he can look for the same story in other well-known news sources, and if he finds it in more than one or two places, it is more likely to be true. I’ve given him well-known sources: big newspapers that have a long history, National Geographic for his science papers, our local paper for community stories, and the Student News show he watches at school.

Another way to assess credibility in stories is to read the tone. Is it level-headed or does it include strong emotion from the author/reporter?  Are commentators yelling at each other or calling each other names? Does it lump people into groups like “Liberals” or “Conservatives” or use these words as insults? If so, this should be a red flag that the media outlet’s opinion is seeping through.  If you’d really like to make up your own mind about things, determine the sources that are toxic, and try out some new ones.  Name-calling only reinforces stereotypes, which breaks down critical thinking. Ideas need not be placed in boxes and labeled by party or viewpoint. Ideas are ideas; the good ones will withstand serious questions.

I think as we move forward from this election, we, as well-informed citizens, have a duty to regularly assess our news sources. If we lock ourselves into our own bubbles, our own customized news feeds, we are only viewing a small slice of the world, and it’s probably the slice that’s just like us. We risk further alienation from one another. We might, for instance, not recognize that middle-class America strongly feels it’s needs have been ignored, resulting in an election result that no one on the left saw coming.

Or we might just as likely walk around for years believing in exploding maple trees.