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Fake news: a reflection

By Beth Raps. Reprinted from Huffington Post.
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Exactly one week ago, I hopped on a video call without much expectation except to learn more about Living Room Conversations. As our new Development Partner of just about two months’ time, I feel notably clueless: what are these things? how do they work? how on Earth might I host one? And other questions like that. You probably wonder the same thing, unless you’re like our co-founder Debilyn Molineaux, who was probably born hosting dialogue, or our other co-founder Joan Blades, who’s a mediator by profession—and probably genetically!

Our topic was “Fake News.” Here’s a link to the whole video, about 54 minutes. Well, the first thing that happened as I began speaking (but mostly as I began listening) was that I started to care—about fake news, and about what my fellow conversants were saying and thinking. Joan said that fake news worries her because if we can’t trust our news sources, we can’t make decisions together as citizens. This is of direct personal concern to me as an activist. Fake news suddenly seemed a lot more important.

Later on in the conversation, Reverend Pedro Silva, who’s also one of our organizers, pointed out that fake news can be bad or good. He mentioned a piece of fake news that had gone viral about Pope Francis and how it had helped him take a stronger stand on certain things he cared about, and how he was still glad he had taken that stronger stand even after learning that the news was fake. 

This caused me to remember another fake piece of good news, a quote by South African statesman Nelson Mandela—that turned out to have been written by another person I adore, Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. 

It seems to me that this speaks directly to the grassroots, open-source nature of Living Room Conversations: we think each of us is “powerful beyond measure.”

By the end of the conversation, in just about 50 short minutes, I saw, from hearing others’ thinking, what mattered to me about fake news: fake bad news. What defines fake bad news? Fake bad news tries to get me to hate others and doubt myself. It doesn’t inform me so I can be a better citizen. It doesn’t help me sift through new and different ideas. Its sole purpose is to get me to negate human possibility. THIS was of major importance to me, and if you listen all the way (or just shoot through) to the end, you’ll see I made a commitment on the call to speak up when I find fake news among my own progressive organizations’ activist emails. The call made me want to take responsibility as a citizen to stop fake news where it affects me most.

See if the “Fake News” Living Room Conversation has this effect on you? Listen to the call, or just browse and skim, then write us back with your comments or post them at that Facebook link. As always, we welcome your contributions—verbal and financial! If you want to help us keep offering our vast wealth of conversation guides on researched topics, audio and video recordings all for free, make a gift here—of any size.

Beth G. Raps, PhD is a philosopher-organizer. She has worked for decades in grassroots social change movements connecting program and mission to Board, budget, and fund development.  She is also an editor, published French translator and writer. Her research interests are arenas where expert and lay knowledges intersect. Her spiritual interests are wide and deep. She’s the mother of a college-aged daughter whom she co-homeschooled for many years, and has lived for many years in Appalachia.