Get the Other Side of the Story

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It's easy to think you have good information today. Look at all the sources of news, opinion, and facts that help form your views. You've got TV, radio, internet, magazines, and newspapers. Surely this keeps you up to date on everything you want to know. Right? Wrong!

Most of us have well-established patterns for finding the news, opinions, and facts we want. We go to the same places again and again because we're comfortable with them. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.

Actually, we usually stay within our comfort range. When we search the internet, we look for facts to support our beliefs. That's the way we structure our search keywords. We also tend to trust information that is forwarded to us by our friends. If a friend e-mails us a link to an interesting story, we tend to assume our friend checked out the story before sending it along.

Of course, we don't make much of an effort to wade through a lot of stuff we disagree with in an attempt to prove our beliefs are wrong. Instead, we assume that what we don't agree with simply isn't that important. And that is what is different about how we get our news and facts today compared with a couple of decades ago when a community only had one newspaper, or one radio station. In those days, a single news source had to serve all people in the community. So, there were articles that covered the story from many different angles. Today, we call this in-depth reporting.

Media outlets in today's world compete with each other for readers, viewers, and listeners. And the competition is fierce. Many magazines and websites cater to a very narrow topic in order to keep their audience. They call it niche-marketing. It's designed to capture a narrow spectrum of society and serve it well. Don't upset your audience. Let other outlets serve people with differing opinions.

As a result, we, as members of the audience, are happy with our sources. We don't go looking for sources of news that might contradict our way of thinking. We don't try to find the other side of the story. Maybe that's why the victims of Bernie Madoff followed the behavior of other people in their social circle when they handed their money over to dear Bernie.

Sometimes we shy away from voices that are likely to challenge the way we feel about a topic. For example, look at a couple of today's financial gurus: Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman. Many men seem to think Suze is always taking the woman's point of view in family finances. They eavesdrop when their wife watches Suze's show and come to the conclusion, "She sure is a man-basher!" So, that story gets repeated in the locker room and the guys form a group that prefers their financial guidance from someone other than Suze Orman.

On the other hand, Dave Ramsey is a devout Christian. He claims that proudly. That is a turn-off for many people who have reasoned why they don't go to church, or simply don't think Dave should wear his faith so openly. Those people will discount what Dave has to say about managing your personal finances.

It's okay for people to choose their own sources of information. However, in these cases, turning your back on either of these gurus would cause you to miss out on great opportunities to learn more about money and relationships with people from Suze, or about how important it is to get right down to basics with your credit cards and emergency fund with Dave. In short, it is the listener's, or viewer's, loss to tune out good information simply because they have certain biases against the source of that information. (I have my disagreements with a small amount of what both Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey have to say, but I still think they are very smart and well-informed people. Their opinions matter to me because they present a side of the story I may not have thought about.)

Sometimes we are attracted to an information source. Maybe you favor the way a TV station reports the news. We get an adrenalin rush from the sad report of a gang causing property damage, the hit-and-run accident, or the forest fires ravaging small towns. If that's your cup-of-tea, you might miss out on the other stories about work being done to send CARE packages to the troops, or about people trying to find ways to help others keep their homes after foreclosure.

We also filter commercial advertising in much the same way. Yes, our niche group may think the only good MP3 player has to be an Apple® product. In fact there are plenty of MP3 players that compete quite nicely on features, yet cost less. You can compose your own parallel statement to this by simply filling in any high-profile brand name and their product. Go ahead: Gucci®, Lancome®, BMW®, Godiva® chocolates, etc.

Falling into a rut with how we get our news and information will lead us into a rut with our spending habits. Today, we need to challenge our spending habits. Times have changed. Our way of determining value has changed. If we want to change our spending habits we need to challenge the reasons we buy the things we do. Getting the other side of the story helps us do that.

To overcome the dangers of falling into the information rut, try to listen to opposing viewpoints. Realize why you feel comfortable with your beliefs and opinions. And realize that the other guy might not be wrong just because you don't agree with him. Differing opinions can be formed using the same set of true facts, and they can live together in the same household. When they do, it is good to understand both sides of the story.

James W. Stone lives in the Chicago area. He speaks on managing your lifestyle and your money. His special interest involves how we make decisions about money and spending.

James W. Stone
Copyright 2009, James W. Stone, all rights reserved worldwide

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James W. Stone has been involved in new product development and marketing for most of his working career. He has degrees in Mechanical Engineering (BSME, Kentucky, 1976) and Business (MBA, Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Business, 1985).

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This article was published on 2010/04/01