Blocked filters prevent breathing

Michael Alcorn, Hitting Home
Posted 10/11/12

My oldest friend in the world is also one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. We’ve been friends for so long that even our jokes roll their …

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Blocked filters prevent breathing


My oldest friend in the world is also one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. We’ve been friends for so long that even our jokes roll their eyes at our jokes. In fact, Michael may be my one great deterrent to running for political office someday because he knows where all the bodies are buried. Even now, after 34 years, most of them spent half a continent away, we can continue conversations from years ago as if nothing has changed, and our wives just look at us and shake their heads.

Oh, and, did I mention that Michael and I agree on next to nothing when it comes to politics?

It’s weird, I know. We grew up in roughly the same neighborhood, had very similar childhoods and families, both of us went into education out of school. And yet, we see the world through completely different lenses. It’s as if my lenses have very effective UV filters, and his have very effective IR filters. We look at the exact same set of information and see two completely different things.

I’m often able to explain people’s filters through their self-interest. I have a very good friend who is self-employed and does a lot of work with defense interests; so, his filter is business and a modern military. On the other hand, I have another friend who has a favorite aunt who is gay, so all of her information gets strained through a filter of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. Of course, that’s overly simplistic, but you get the idea.

But with Michael, none of that quite fits. He’s been, at times, self-employed, and I think it can be said of him that he is a capitalist at heart. Or, at least, he takes pride in his work, works very hard, and enjoys the individual rewards of that. And I, by contrast, have spent my whole adult life working in “the system” and recognize that I probably will never be singled out within said system for special rewards. Somehow, neither of our filters seem to fit the normal analysis, and, somehow, they are reverse-polarized from what I would expect.

We are both what I would consider “high information consumers,” which is to say that Michael shares my unfortunate need to know more about what’s going on in the world than you get from the first five minutes of the nightly news. To some degree, that means that both of us are dependent on the purveyors of the news for our information — if, for some reason, we don’t get the full story from the people who distribute news, then our first layer of filtering comes from someone else. But neither of us trust that filter, so we both look elsewhere for more depth.

But, on some level, those external filters are bound to let through roughly the same information to both of us. So I’m forced to conclude that the difference is something internal — something in our eyes and ears tends to block some information and highlight other information which leads to our separate conclusions about the world. How those filters develop is beyond me, and why they should develop so differently in two similar people is even more of a mystery.

Now, I know all of this is very academic at this point. What worries me about this phenomenon, particularly in a heated political season like the one we’re in, is that those filters are becoming so rough that, to maintain our equilibrium, too many of us seem to be making our filters out of barbed wire. Barack Obama is, by all accounts, a great father to his girls, so portrayals of him by the Right as some sort of Apocalyptic figure can’t possibly square with reality; Mitt Romney is a man who has given close to $30 million to charity in the last 10 years, so, again, portrayals of him by the Left as an evil, heartless capitalist just don’t have any basis in reality.

I don’t have a problem with anybody’s filters — nobody can take in every piece of information and know what to do with it. But there’s a big difference between filtering out information, and constructing impregnable barriers to contrary information. And, worse still is when those barriers expand to block not just information, but to destroy the value of the person behind that information. That can’t possibly be healthy, and it certainly is not constructive. Just ask any mechanic: a filter that gets blocked won’t allow you to breathe.

Michael Alcorn is a music teacher and fitness instructor who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. He graduated from Alameda High School and the University of Colorado-Boulder.


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