My view: Awareness is a valuable commodity

By Kurt Manwaring

Published: Friday, July 16 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

I listened to a local radio program recently where the host moderated a discussion on several different issues. One of the topics dealt with the case of a woman in Iran who was sentenced to death by stoning. The host wondered out loud why topics such as Mel Gibson's latest debacle and hot-tempered immigration debates result in capacity telephone queues, while issues relative to international human rights barely elicit a single call. His musings have caused me to think and realize that the attribute of awareness is a valuable commodity.

It is human nature to focus on those things that are widely talked about or impact us directly. For example, the immigration debate in Utah is covered widely in the media and directly impacts each of us. Whether you are talking about jobs, taxes or crime, the immigration fervor is reaching a climactic high. The final result will directly impact us all in one way or another. It is human nature for these types of issues to give way to easily formed and passionately held opinions.

On the other hand, it is much more difficult to form an opinion on issues that have a less immediate impact. The talk show host gave the example of international human rights. For a woman in Iran to be sentenced to death by stoning is reprehensible in today's enlightened world. And yet the issue is not covered as widely in the media as other popular stories, and it has little immediate impact on Utahns. As another example, those impacted by the Red Butte oil spill likely have stronger opinions in that regard than the spill in the Gulf because of its direct impact on their lives. Just as human nature makes it easy to form an opinion on a popular topic, human nature also makes it difficult to take a stand on issues of which we are less knowledgeable and which don't immediately impact us.

Some might argue that this should be the case. After all, we do our best work when we focus on those issues lying within our circle of influence. In reality, an awareness of a variety of issues actually enables us to expand our circle of influence.

The benefits of awareness are many. By learning about diverse issues, we develop an overall perspective of how the issues are actually intertwined. We learn to see the end from the beginning. Consider the example of illegal immigration. If we choose to focus on one or two issues alone, such as the tax burden or misconceptions of criminal activity, we fail to see the entire picture. On the other hand, an awareness of human rights also introduces us to the virtues of compassion and an understanding of the relationship between justice and mercy. The knowledge may not change our opinion, but it does increase our influence by enabling us to persuade others with a more complete arsenal of facts. The development of awareness takes diligent effort, but it ultimately empowers us with added influence.

It is human nature to focus on topics that are widely discussed or of direct relevance to us. Human nature also requires a more diligent struggle to form opinions on issues that seem far off and of little direct relevance. Some may argue that it is best to focus on the issues that are close at hand, but developing an awareness of diverse issues enables us to increase in our influence. The attribute of awareness may be costly to acquire, but such is the case with all valuable commodities. And the attribute of awareness is a truly valuable commodity.

Kurt Manwaring is pursuing a graduate degree in public administration at the University of Utah and is currently researching crime and immigration in state history.

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