Home   Archive


Perspectives, perceptions, and old news
Jack Balshaw 6/11/01

The United States has almost 50 times the population of Israel.  In view of the recent bombings and killings there, to put the impact in perspective we would have to multiply the numbers by 50 to get a similar impact in this country.  Therefore, the suicide attack which took 20 lives and injured about 80 more young people at the Israeli night club would have had to kill 1000 people and injure 4000 more to be comparable in the U.S.. These type of numbers also apply for the Palestinians killed and wounded in recent fighting.

 While we read about this in the newspaper and watch it on the evening news, we don’t put it into perspective.   Imagine if the Canadians were doing similar things to us!  How long would we stand for 1000 people being killed and 4000 being wounded in one terrorist attack?   Not very long I think.

 It may take a little thought to adjust the numbers and circumstances in the news to a meaningful local or national context.  But we do it without thinking when a relative in New Hampshire or Georgia talks about the average home costing $140,000. We can do it for world and national events if we try.

 Perception can be just as elusive as perspective.  Those who remember the Loma Priata earthquake will remember the scenes of the fires in the Marina district in San Francisco. The flames were photographed from all angles, from the ground, from the air, from the bay and from all around the block that was burning.  We knew it was just one small area burning, but some, at least my relatives back east, thought large sections of San Francisco were burning.  Our correct perception was related to knowledge, in this case, our knowledge of San Francisco.

 Similarly, we have a perception of our country as very violent and getting worse.  In actuality, things are getting better.  In 1995 there were 20,232 homicides in the U.S.. In 1998 there were 14,209. This is a reduction of almost one third in only three years. But, based on what we see on the TV and what we read in the newspapers, our perception is just the opposite.

 Again, the difference is knowledge.  The numbers are accurate because homicides don’t go unreported.  On the other hand, if the newspapers and TV stations keep reporting on the same killing for a number of days, the perception is of continuous killings.  Knowing the numbers provides a boundary for our perceptions.

 Old news isn’t even given a thought if we can’t remember what was the big news last week, last month or last year.  What ever happened to the USS Cole?  Remember the ship that was bombed by terrorists in Yemen?  For all the coverage there was of the incident then and all the TV footage, why was there never a photo when it was returned to the U.S.?  No stories either in the news magazines that the damage was more/less than originally thought.  What’s the big deal about a follow-up story?

It’s strange how quickly a front page story becomes forgotten once we are no longer reminded of it daily.  The national issue item, campaign finance, was a hot item until the Senate passed it, then it just seemed to disappear.  What happened? Locally, Lafferty, The Hub, Kenilworth Jr. High relocation have all become invisible.  I’m going to start saving front pages just so I’ll be able to remember what made the headlines just a while ago.

 It takes an awareness of scale to apply perspective, some real information to provide a proper perception and a good memory to remember what was supposed to be important just a while ago.  Without perspective, perception and memory, we’re continually jerked around by whatever information is being fed to us.  Being properly informed takes effort on our part.  

Home   Archive