Editing is an art form.
My son Cedric was coming in the front door a few days ago when his sister asked, “Did you eat an ice cream sandwich?”
He replied, “Malachi had two.”
That was, strictly speaking, true. Malachi had eaten two ice cream sandwiches. The difficulty is that Cedric had also eaten one. Attempting to avoid getting in trouble, he used facts to conceal the truth. His sister was trying to make sure that he got one, brought him an ice cream sandwich.
To which he said, “Oh. Uh. I’ve already had one.”
It is possible to be very strict with facts and still tell lies.
This appears to be the job of news editors these days. Tell the story that will get us readers. The story that they want to hear. Put in the facts that will keep our readers enraged enough to adclick for more.
But editing to confirm expectations and suspicions, editing to refill the spleen of the tribe, or editing to dehumanize enemies is wrong. Liars go to hell (Rev. 21:8). And burning sulfur reacts to conservatives and liberals in precisely the same way.
As consumers of newsertainment, we need to always remember what ABC’s Lost confirmed once and for all. The genius of the first two seasons of Lost was that each character was given an episode in which they are a good guy and an episode in which are a bad guy. Whether Jack, Kate, James, Hurley, and John Lock are a protagonist or an antagonist depends largely on the editor.
We need to get this lesson into our skeleton before we see scenes such as the recent terrifying episode in Charlotte. Otherwise, we too will be the fish snagged by the bait-hidden hook. We will be easily manipulated and primed to be pumped by the news like Dominique Wilkins’ shoes.
Of course, it isn’t in the newsertainment’s best interest to report fairly. Conflict sells. And competing narratives inflame conflict.
Sol Stein, in his book On Writing, writes of his early work in theater. In rehearsals of plays still being written he would take two actors, give them two different setups, and then tell them to improvise the scene.
To one he would say, “You are a school principal meeting with the mother of a recently expelled little terror. If this student stays he will sink the entire school into primordial chaos.”
To the other he would say, “You are the mother of a supremely sweet cherub. your brilliant child has been expelled over a misunderstanding. The principle is an old jade. He’s hated children for three decades. Convincing him to allow your child to stay saves your child’s future.”
And then he would see where the scene went. It was writer’s research, filling the well with creative juices. But Stein is onto something. How often is conflict two groups working in different stories. We are in different scenes; thus, tensions rise.
There is not much to it. One actor is the hero, bravely standing down the infiltrating enemy. The other thinks they are the faithful remnant, being drowned by the tides of evil. Each believes they are defending truth. Each thinks the other a liar because of the way that they tell the story.
Are we in the turning point scene of Mississippi Burning? Is this Birth of a Nation? Or is this just the scene right before the third commercial in Different Strokes? Everyone is cast as a different character depending on the kind of scene we believe that we are in.
In order to shout down the opposition, you must first be convinced that the opposition is such that it would be wrong to listen at all. If they are libtards or Nazis or commies or confederate sympathizers then you have a moral responsibility to refuse to hear their tripe.
But remember it is easier to gather a group around what we hate rather than what we love. And we are being herded. And herd branding is promoted by shaming outsiders. We are the smart ones because they are idiots. We are the empathetic ones because they are heartless. We are the scientific ones because they are completely ignoring the lab-coated prophets of our identity.
Now, obviously, our logical fallacy meter is blaring, but group-membership-derived-identity is usually based on fear and pride, not logic. Then it is sold through fact-edit. We always see their shortcomings, which justify us. For example, I have seen marriages barely holding together suddenly (and temporarily) spared by a presidential election. But, whether left or right, a common enemy is not the same as fellowship. Editing the facts into stories that reinforce group identity, though it might make you money, is not good for your soul.
Lies enslave. Truth sets free.
When you find yourself in conflict, stop and listen. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19b). Because a lot of words lead to a lot of sin. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov. 10:19).
Listen to understand. Specifically, listen to understand what the other side thinks the conflict is about. Restrain your lips to find script differences. Look for the ways you are being cast as the villain. Maybe there is truth to it. We should, as far as we are able, work to be at peace with all men (Rom. 12:18). Learn to listen carefully. It is the beginning of peacemaking.
If our country needs anything from God’s people, it needs peacemakers. Not ones that say, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace. And not ones that reinforce the echo chamber of one side or the other. But peacemakers that listen and help people recast themselves and one another into the truth of God’s story of loving redemption and restored fellowship through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
A common enemy is not brotherhood. But having Jesus as a shared older brother is exactly that.