Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Letter to a Nervous Graduate

This afternoon a student I've never met, but who has heard me speak about politics here at Friends before, wrote me out of the blue, asking me for directions as to where to find helpful information about the country's oncoming financial collapse. She was, very generally, worried about the future--her future, in particular. She wrote:

I'm really interested in politics, but I'm not sure where to turn for good information or how to learn more. All my information comes from Fox News, radio programs, online research, or terribly long-winded lectures from my dad! I feel so helpless in these crazy times and keep hearing that we're headed for a massive dollar crash. I'm graduating in one semester and the future just does not look bright! What would you recommend that I do/read to stay informed and be prepared?

This is what I wrote back. I don't often get to go into Wise Old Counselor mode; I hope I didn't overdo it:

I don’t want to tell you not to trust your father and/or your news sources of choice, but you should be aware that stories about economic catastrophe and political meltdowns are a dime a dozen. I’m not saying it can’t happen, only that there is a desperate, conspiratorial way of viewing the world that some people really indulge in, and I don’t think it’s healthy. We need to be cautious, practical, and responsible with our economic choices, obviously; it’s never a good idea to run up a great deal of personal or consumer debt with no immediate plans in mind to pay for it. But I don’t think you should head into graduation terrified that the car you’re making payments on is nonetheless going to be repossessed tomorrow, or your credit card’s interest rates will jump to 30% a month by May, even though you’re well below your credit limit. I wouldn’t tell you not to pay attention or not to worry--I do, and my family and I are trying to pay down our debt and live frugally and sustain ourselves as much as possible. Times are bad, and it's quite possible that worse times are coming. But I would also tell you that the government and economic structures around you, despite their many flaws and weaknesses, are not nearly so ready to blow up as some people think.

As for news sources, I check many, and so should you. If you really are interested in politics, then don’t restrict yourself to any one source of information, and particularly be suspicious of sources that claim to be “unlocking” or “revealing” the “real story” behind the news. The real story about anything having to do with the government or the economy is almost always a slow, complicated one, in which many political and private actors (politicians, parties, interest groups, businesses, etc.) make deals and hope to move the law or the economy slightly in one direction or another. That sort of story usually isn’t exciting, but it is much more likely to be truthful. So read the New York Times and the Washington Post online, as well as the Wall Street Journal and The Economist--not all of them every day of course (no one has the time for that!), but often enough to get a sense of the range of news out there. And look for unexpected, unconventional new sources as well, like Sojourners, or Mother Jones. Identify different voices that you trust. Look around enough, and you’ll be able to find voices--liberal or conservative, Christian or secular, mainstream or radical, etc.--that you keep coming back to, because they make sense to you.

Trust your instincts. You’re a college graduate; that means you’ve learned how to read seriously and how to think critically. Use those skills to examine the huge range of opinions out there, and don’t trust anyone who says they’ve got it all figured out. Everything, always, takes a long time to figure out, because everything is always changing. Maybe not in regard to God or morality or the people you love and care about; those things are probably pretty stable (or so I hope!). But in regard to international trade and health care and taxes? There will always be something new or different to say about all of those.

Good luck—and take care.


Ricketson said...

If I ever get a question like that, would you mind if I plagiarize you?

Laura said...

This is just what I needed to read today. I've started listening to Glen Beck a few weeks ago to be more balanced and he's been scaring the shiz out of me!