Another Kind of Quick Draw
When we were around ten years old, Bill and I spent many a lazy Saturday afternoon watching movies at the local theatre and we were partial to Westerns. We were especially partial to double feature westerns with stars like Roy Rogers and John Wayne. Back then fifty cents could get you two cowboy shoot-em ups, a half hour of cartoons, a box of popcorn and your choice of Jujubes, Boston Baked Beans, Good-N-Plenty or several other barely digestible delights that had a shelf life of at least one millennium.
One such Saturday afternoon we saw a movie called “The Red Pony” which turned out to be a mistake. The movie was billed as a Western and I suppose, technically, it was. It took place out West and as the name implied, it had a pony in it. We should have suspected that a movie starring Myrna Loy and Robert Mitchum might fall short of meeting our rigid criteria for a Western, and it did…no bar fights or gun battles, no chases or pretty cowgirls being rescued by Roy or the Duke, not even a showdown in the middle of Main Street.
It was no surprise, however, that the movie was about a kid with a red pony. The surprise came when about a third of the way through the movie the pony died. Of course we felt sad, but Bill and I were not emotionally invested enough in the movie to be real broken up by the pony’s sudden demise.
After a few minutes of watching the kid go to pieces, Bill turned to me with the knowing look of someone who just figured things out and said, “Well, that’s that.” I looked at him a little puzzled and asked, “What’s what?” He said, “The movie’s over. It’s about a pony and the pony just died, that’s all there is, let’s go.” I wasn’t thrilled about the movie either, but it was a long way from over and I still had a half box of popcorn and a full box of Jujubes.
But Bill was my pal and I knew he was not one to sit still through two thirds of a movie he had already decided was over. So, I put my Jujubes in my pocket, folded the top of my popcorn box and followed my buddy out of the threatre.
I realize that is probably not the best way to get to my point about snap decisions, but at least it’s mostly true. I do admit to filling in a little where memory failed. Never the less, my point is about how we often decide the truth of an event after hearing only part of the story. We are especially vulnerable to making a quick draw when the part of the story we heard plays into our beliefs and prejudices.
Typically the media, in a rush to be first with the news, takes incomplete facts, establishes a narrative and gives it the most sensational possible spin with a lead something like, “Unarmed black teenager gunned down by white cop,” or “New study shows earth doomed by human activity.” For some that’s the whole story. Who needs more information when our beliefs about white racist cops or global warming have just been reinforced?
Look at how many of us made fixed decisions based on the first news flash about the cases involving Treyvon Martin and Michael Brown, about Eric Garner in New York and the death of Freddie Gray in the back of a Baltimore Police van. Who needs more information when you are comfortable with the opinion you formed as you listened to the first dribs and drabs of information from your favorite media outlet?
Yeah, the pony is dead, but there’s a lot more to the story. Does it really matter if we keep an open mind and objectively consider each new fact that comes in? Why not just ignore the rest of the story or, better yet, chalk it up to lies and misinformation if it conflicts with what we want the truth to be.
After all, what difference does it make how we form our opinions on the issues of the day? Does it really matter what we actually know about climate change, gun safety, racism, public education, etc.? Does it really matter if we ignore the last two thirds of the story when it makes us uncomfortable? YOU BET IT DOES! Because our elected leaders act on what they think we think in order to stay in office. And they know what we think like never before.
They pay big bucks to professionals who have very sophisticated means to find out exactly what we think. The snap decisions we make and cling to eventually become policy if not law. Somebody much smarter than me once said, “You may not care much about politics, but politics cares a lot about you.”