On "extracting the truth"
From the fall of Saigon to the Taliban's victory in Kabul
August 18, 2021
I am not sure about you but I am finding it increasingly difficult to find one issue on which to focus my time, money, and attention. This weekend, I woke to news about the earthquake in Haiti. The Taliban took control of Afghanistan. Indigenous communities in Canada continue to search the grounds of former residential schools for the remains of ancestors. Wildfires are making headlines worldwide, and dire warnings about climate change abound.
On Instagram, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber (aka @sarcasticlutheran) quoted from an essay she wrote recently.
I just don’t think our psyches were developed to hold, feel and respond to everything coming at them right now.
I agree; and, yet, once we know that someone somewhere is experiencing injustice, loss, or sorrow, we cannot easily turn away from it.
How do we continue to face the onslaught of breaking news without breaking ourselves? How do we sift through the overwhelming amount of information laid at our proverbial feet each day? How do we “extract the truth” from the events of the day (a question discussed by historian Kate Bowler and Malcolm Gladwell in a recent episode of the Everything Happens podcast).
I don’t have any answers, but I am gathering tools that might help, including techniques designed to help us slow down, focus, and better understand how pictures are used to tell certain narratives—and how our own biases and preconceived notions influence how we interpret or respond to images.
My social media feeds have been inundated by posts comparing the Taliban’s victory in Kabul to the fall of Saigon in 1975. You have most likely seen Hubert van Es’s iconic rooftop photo of people trying desperately to board a helicopter at the end of the Vietnam war. An image that is being juxtaposed against images of the U.S. embassy evacuation from Kabul last weekend. Journalists and pundits are weighing in on the similarities between the images, and debating whether or not the situations are comparable.
On Saturday, one day before these images took over my feeds, I attended a virtual workshop with Dr. Kristy Leissle (aka @docofchoc) at Hedgebrook. She talked about the value of image substitution in social research. How does our interpretation of an image change if we alter a key element in it? (Think race, gender, or nationality.) As I stared at the images on my computer screen Sunday afternoon, I considered this exercise and other visual thinking strategies.
Want to learn more about this tool and others? I recommend “What’s Going on in this Picture”, a program and resources created by The New York Times and Visual Thinking Strategies.
This weekend, I realized just how little I know about the final days of the Vietnam War. If you, like me, want to find out (or rediscover) what happened then, you could pick up a copy of The Fall of Saigon by reporter David Butler (Abacus, 1990). Don’t have a lot of time? Read “Last Chopper from Saigon” by Reid Beddow in The Washington Post (April 21, 1985).
There are countless organizations gathering resources to support people in Afghanistan right now. I cannot possibly list them all. If you support one that is not listed here, please feel free to mention it in the comments.
Before you go
Would you do me a small favour? If you enjoy reading Sift. Shift. Lift. please take a moment to like, share, or comment below. It is a simple gesture, but it gives new-ish publications like Sift. Shift. Lift.—and creators like me—a much-appreciated boost.
Thank you my friends.
Not yet a subscriber? Pull up a chair. There is always room for one more.
Coming up next:
Sift. Shift. Lift. (August 20, 2021)
Sifting, shifting, and lifting with . . . Sara Bowen (aka The Modern Reverend) (August 22, 2021)
Did you miss an issue?
Here are the links to the last two issues (just in case):
Sifting, shifting, and lifting with . . . poet Fran Westwood (August 15, 2021)
The Weekly on Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (August 11, 2021)
Just made a donation to WAW, I wouldn't have thought about them without your publication! Thx
Indeed... all too much to take in these days. I confess I'm employing a tactic I often used during the darkest days of the pandemic, which is to avoid the news. I feel guilty about it of course, but at this moment in time I'm doing what I can to save myself. I'll look again when I can.