To say that we live in an over informed environment is to state the obvious. One is tempted to single out the Internet as the main culprit that is drowning us with information. That would be too easy. To argue in favor of scapegoating the Internet would be to add yet more superfluous information to the flood.
Too little information leaves us intellectually thirsty and too much information leads us awash in a stormy mental sea. We seem to be inundated with messages, news, heartrending stories, kitten videos, and useful data. It all rains down upon us like some sort of scrolling Facebook feed from Hell.
A person can isolate himself from all input and wander, lost in the desert of no interaction. On the other hand a person can choose to navigate the ocean of information by trusting someone or something to filter her daily flow of data. To follow either extreme is a hinderance to true knowledge and wisdom. Fear of knowledge leads to cynicism and narrow-mindedness. Too much faith in ideals and supposed infallibility leads to mental rot. Either way, a person can be easily led astray.
How do we figure out the right amount of information to guide us towards a more enlightened, wise way of navigating the waters of our lives? How can we learn about new things and comprehend obscure notions without getting lost in inaccurate or tainted viewpoints? In other words how can we be more discerning?
When I Googled “discernment” I encountered a plethora of links to religious sites. Clicking on some of them got me sidetracked into religious opinion that advocated singular viewpoints. None of them looked like a path to real discernment. My Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines discernment as the “ability to see and understand people, things, or situations clearly and intelligently.”
Real discernment requires personal responsibility to honest inquiry and accountability to a fair ethical standard. When we encounter some new bit of information, do we see it as some means of validating our preconceived opinion or reject it out of hand because it contradicts our point of view? Discernment requires that we be more objective than that.
Discernment is the most helpful tool to choose when we sort the useless from the useful information. When we encounter information we can mentally stand back and analyze our emotional reaction to it. This is how to quickly determine our own personal bias. Do we just want to go with the flow of the status quo or do we sincerely wish to explore some new mental territory?
By cultivating discernment, we help ourselves use information in ways that encourage an open, honest method of inquiry. Just as a sea captain uses discernment of data to navigate his ship across the seas, we can sort through the overabundance of information with discernment to keep us from getting scattered and mentally lost.
I can ask myself, does some new information encourage disharmony and dysfunction with others and myself; or does it help open my mind to new, more helpful ways to live life? Am I adrift on the ocean of information, blinded by the fogs of sectarian idealism, dogma, and strong opinion? Do I want honest, straightforward, real information to help me flourish with integrity and compassion. These are the questions I try to ask myself each day.
Discernment requires constant vigilance. Done honestly, with an open mind, discernment enables much more satisfying ways of navigating our voyage through life.