Travel-George Orwell-New Mexico (copy)

'If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,' said writer George Orwell. To which The Advocate's Danny Heitman adds, 'The challenge for all of us in this deeply polarized year is to question our beliefs even — or perhaps especially — when they seem comfortably correct.'

If you tuned in for last week’s column, then you’ll know that I offered a few remarks about my gradual, moderately successful efforts to lose weight last year. If I could drop 30 pounds with small changes in my eating habits, I told readers, then maybe the best way to make good on a New Year’s resolution to get thinner might be to do it a little bit at a time.

Resolving to lose weight in 2020? Try doing it a little at a time

But at the start of another year, a time often given over to solemn self-appraisal, let me share a small side story about my recent dieting life that reminded me how hard it can be to look at ourselves truthfully.

My wife and I did manage to lose weight in recent months, though there was a detour on the road to redemption that involved our bathroom scale.

For weeks, every time we weighed in, the scale reported a steady drop. This happened even after a vacation that included indulgent meals.

I came to love the scale, which told me without fail exactly what I wanted to hear. My wife, who has a closer relationship with reality than I do, eventually concluded that the news our bathroom scale delivered was consistently too good to be true.

“I think there’s something wrong with it,” she told me. “It’s time to buy another one.”

We picked up a new scale at the corner drugstore. It quickly revealed that we were losing weight, though not nearly so much as we had thought.

I was reluctant, though, to give up the old model. To routinely be assured that my assumptions were correct was intoxicating. With a heavy heart, I threw my Fake News scale away.

The experience reminded me, though, why so many of us choose to watch news channels based strictly on what we want to hear, not necessarily what we need to hear. It’s so much more pleasant to have your sense of the world affirmed rather than challenged.

During a short trip to London last year, my wife and I made a pilgrimage to the statue of George Orwell that stands outside the BBC. As he pursued a career that would yield the groundbreaking novels “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Animal Farm,” Orwell worked in radio broadcasting, which still claims him as one of its own. Next to the statue are these words from Orwell: “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Orwell understood how uncomfortable people can become when they encounter opinions that are different from their own. He offended readers on both the left and the right because the views he expressed in his essays and fiction defied easy category.

The challenge for all of us in this deeply polarized year is to question our beliefs even — or perhaps especially — when they seem comfortably correct.

 


Email Danny Heitman at dheitman@theadvocate.com.