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‘Chicken Little’ is sometimes justified

What if the sky was not falling? What if all the hysterical calls for the end of everything was a bid for ratings, views, clicks,and likes. Well, it is, because most news outlets have to fight the most popular shows to get ratings and add revenue.

It’s not the fault of the news outlets that more of us will click, or pause, or tune in for an alarmist, negative headline than for something positive. It started several years ago with journalists having to fight for ratings, then the internet happened. A place where every rumor can be repeated and become fact, even if the initial post was meant to be a joke, or sarcasm.

Anything repeated often enough and loud enough must be true, right? Now the internet is fighting for attention, and we are all more likely to tune in, click through, read a story that is dramatic and frightening, or sad. I do it, too. In fact I’ve started feeling so overwhelmed by all this latest world disaster that I felt like why bother to try and save anything, the world is dying and we’re dying with it. But is it and are we?

What if things aren’t as bad as our news media makes it seem? What if there is a lot more hope than most news sources can share without their ratings taking a hit?

Remember the story of Henny Penny, also called Chicken Little, the terrified little chicken convinced that the sky is falling and that life as we, or at least as chickens, know it is over, is common throughout folklore, so common that “the sky is falling!” and “Chicken Little” and related names have become bywords for fearmongering, and the often tragic results that occur.

But there’s a big difference between our modern Chicken Littles and the storybook version: we end up believing ours.

Children learn from the story of Chicken Little not to trust hysterical types because the sky can’t really be falling. But financial and political structures really can implode, health care systems really can fail in catastrophic ways and really can threaten the very stability of our biosphere.

So should we actually trust our Chicken Littles? The problem is not that we believe them. The sad thing is that we need them in the first place.The only way to do away with the need for real life Chicken Littles is to do away with the crises that make them worth listening to.

We certainly need immediate answers to the profound problems we face now. But as we work to address them, we should also be working toward developing our capacity to anticipate social problems and concerns before they reach crisis proportions. Even as we meet the crises of our time, we should have our sights set on an even bigger goal: ending governance by crisis once and for all.

This will only happen if we succeed in weaving a capacity to truly understand the very fabric of our institutions and culture. Understanding must complement muddling through day-to-day problem-solving.

Robert Ware

Elkins

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