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Why Loyalty Matters: The Groundbreaking Approach to Rediscovering Happiness, Meaning and Lasting Fulfillment in Your Life and Work Excerpt from Why Loyalty Matters: The Groundbreaking Approach to Rediscovering Happiness, Meaning and Lasting Fulfillment in Your Life and Work

by Timothy Keiningham



The Media's Role in a Loyal Society

In the late twentieth century, the traditional social networks of Western society visibly weakened. In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam chronicles the deterioration of American social connections -- to family, neighbors, communities, and country -- in the second half of the twentieth century. Our lives are becoming less socially interactive. The book's title exemplified this observation: "More Americans are bowling than ever before, but league bowling has plummeted."

Putnam lays much of the fraying of our social fabric on the "individualizing" nature of our electronic media. He laments, "Electronic technology allows us to consume this hand-tailored entertainment in private, even utterly alone. As late as the middle of the twentieth century, low-cost entertainment was available primarily in public settings, like the baseball park, the dance hall, the movie theater, and the amusement park . . . As the poet T.S. Eliot observed early in the television age, 'It is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.'"

There is no question that we now have tremendous opportunities to be both connected to others via electronic media, yet remain completely anonymous and unaccompanied. We can even build synthetic identities, complete with virtual wives, jobs, and mortgages. As the real living, breathing wife of a cyberholic laments, "This other life is so wonderful; it's better than real life. Nobody gets fat, nobody gets gray. The person that's left can't compete with that." If only it were real!

Fortunately, most of us know the boundary between the virtual world and reality. But our ability to satisfy our own distinct appetites has led to increasing fragmentation of our personal lives. A study by Deloitte reports, "In recent years, the number of media formats and channels has exploded -- changing the way people consume content and splintering the mass market into smaller pieces . . . that translates into a fragmented world of increasingly scattered audiences."

Furthermore, this fragmentation abets asocial ideas. The ability of the media to provide subject matter on virtually any idea means there is ready access to content for the lunatic fringe of society. A study conducted by the New York City Police Department states, "The Internet is a driver and enabler for the process of radicalization . . . It also serves as an anonymous virtual meeting place -- a place where virtual groups of like-minded and conflicted individuals can meet, form virtual relationships and discuss and share the . . . message they have encountered."

Whether or not the decline in social networks is primarily attributable to the individualizing aspects of modern electronic media is clearly debatable. But let's assume for the moment that it is. Should we give up our iPod, our satellite TV and radio, our Internet access to live in a more cohesive society, where loyalty to other citizens is as obvious as it is fulfilling? For many (if not most) of us, the idea of moving backward to a technologically simpler era sounds too severe an action to bear.

But we should realize that if we don't moderate the effects of our electronic entanglements, we put at risk our most basic and common humanity. There is a definite connection between our level of personal interaction and our social selves as citizens. Alexis de Tocqueville's observations more than 150 years ago still ring true:
When men are no longer united in any firm or lasting way, it is impossible to persuade any great number of them to act in cooperation unless you convince each of those whose help is vital that his private interests are served by voluntarily joining his efforts to those of all the others. This cannot be achieved usually or conveniently except with the help of a newspaper, which is the only way of being able to place the same thought at the same moment into a thousand minds.
De Tocqueville reminds us that civic loyalty was once tied to the news we received from our media. Unfortunately, modern news is often driven by the ratings it will generate, filtered by political ideology, and narrowly broadcast to like-minded constituents. So instead of producing the "same thought at the same moment into a thousand minds," we now transmit different thoughts at the same moment targeted to those who already believe. We no longer interact with the community at large but only with those portions of the community with which we agree.

The Founding Fathers of the United States believed strongly that free societies required a free press. Thomas Jefferson famously said, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." But Jefferson also added, "But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them."

The First Amendment grants freedom of the press in the United States. And while all countries do not provide constitutional protection to the press, Western countries provide news organizations with great latitude so that reporters are able to uncover and report the truth. But with every right comes a responsibility. The free press is supposed to remain loyal to the people. This requires offering the public a forum for open, honest political discourse.

Hence, it is ironic that parody news programs -- namely The Daily Show and The Colbert Report -- are viewed by many Americans (specifically Americans under the age of forty-five) as truly honoring the media's duty. A key responsibility of the press is to challenge truthiness with the truth. (Truthiness is a term that Stephen Colbert, faux-conservative anchor of The Colbert Report, popularized, defined as "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.") In an out-of-persona interview, Colbert laments:
Truthiness is tearing apart our country . . . it doesn't seem to matter what facts are. It used to be [that] everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty . . . What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?
So what part of the equation has changed? Why do we find that people are willing to accept gut instinct over verifiable truth? Well, this type of skewed media has always been available. But nowadays, intellectually honest debate is sorely lacking. Debates in the news are choreographed and the true essence of debate is spoiled. Often, conservative and liberal representatives merely repeat the party line so that they simply talk past one another without listening to or addressing the legitimate concerns of citizens. So, perhaps it is the fleeting concept of open and public discourse that allows the proliferation of "truthiness" to go unchecked.

To quote Jefferson again,
No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press.
In other words, Jefferson believed that the press is the primary means of ensuring our liberty. And, as de Tocqueville observed, it is also the primary means of ensuring our loyalty to our communities while maintaining our individual rights.

Therefore, the press must exercise its great power to bring honest discourse to the people, recognizing its vital role in maintaining liberty, and fostering civic loyalty. And it should do so with vigor.

The above is an excerpt from the book Why Loyalty Matters: The Groundbreaking Approach to Rediscovering Happiness, Meaning and Lasting Fulfillment in Your Life and Work by Timothy Keiningham and Lerzan Aksoy. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2009 Timothy Keiningham and Lerzan Aksoy, authors of Why Loyalty Matters: The Groundbreaking Approach to Rediscovering Happiness, Meaning and Lasting Fulfillment in Your Life and Work