Suffering From Analysis Paralysis

Susan Page
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Wednesday - January 31, 2007
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Last week while packing for a trip to Kamuela to visit the grandchildren, I had the TV tuned to a news program. The host and “expert” guests were hashing and rehashing the president’s State of the Union speech. Five Washington insiders were dissecting Bush’s every sentence, word, blink, squint, lip purse, pause and inflection for its possible meaning.

At some point between carefully stashing my 2.5-ounce bottles of liquids into plastic baggies and folding my warm jammies (Waimea’s chilly!) into a my carry-on, I had a flash which, for a change, had nothing to do with hormones: We’ve become a nation afflicted with “analysis paralysis” - a highly debilitating condition that numbs the brain - as in, why “think” when “far more educated” people will do it for me?

I remember a different time, a time when the president of the United States would deliver a speech, Americans would gather in front of their only TV set (and in our case on one channel), watch, listen and then - and you won’t believe this - without any help, come to our very own conclusions about what he said. I’m not kidding.

There truly was a time when the American people had enough sense to understand political speech for themselves, apply its content to their own personal lives, their business, city, state and nation. And, based on their own interpretation, they went to the polls and voted their conscience - in far larger numbers than today, by the way. They were involved and educated citizens.

When I watch the endless array of opinion panels made up of Washington Beltway insiders, I’m reminded of one of my favorite films, The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey. Carrey plays a guy unknowingly trapped inside a fake community, living out his life as the star of his own reality show, hence the name The Truman Show. Truman, with hidden cameras filming his every move, does-n’t know it but the sky above is really just the top of a large dome encasing the entire city. All the citizens (actors) are in on the deception and keep this ingenious, diabolical ruse going because it’s just so darned entertaining. All they talk about is the what Truman is doing. It’s a hard habit to break.

Inside the Beltway is like Truman’s fake community - an enclosed dome in which political pundits are obsessed with their own political reality show (or unreality?). The oh-so-urgent and critical voices of political analysts bounce off the dome walls as if in an echo chamber repeating the same thought; then it’s broadcast to the outside world as if entirely original. It’s a hard habit for pundits to break, because it’s so darned entertaining. And listening to endless blathering has also become a habit for Americans who are becoming too mentally lazy to analyze issues themselves.

My stepson Steve calls this mental laziness “habits of the mind” that block critical thinking. And he gave me a quote to ponder, “Habits are cobwebs that turn into cables.”

Some argue that television analysis gives us food for thought and is helpful in seeing things in a different light. On the other hand, post speech robs us of the opportunity to let what we heard really sink in. When these “experts” overpower our conclusions with their subjective ones, implied is, “You may think you heard the president said, but I’m going to tell you what he really said. Your own ‘unsophisticated’ instincts can’t be trusted.”

As I zipped up my roll-on bag I began to chuckle out loud, remembering what one newscaster said in the hour leading up to the State of the Union speech.

“When we come back after the commercial break, I’ll tell you what the president is going to say, what it means, and how it will affect you in the year ahead.”

At this rate, pretty soon the president won’t even need to show up.

The cure for analysis paralysis? Trust your own instincts and hit the off button before the rebuttals, critiques and discussions begin.

Boy, I’m glad the grandkids won’t be telling me how I’m supposed to think.

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