Information is now at most of our fingertips, and yet many of us won't even read past the headline of a news article or the first sentence of a social media post.
Growing up, a popular literacy campaign called R.I.F. (Reading is Fundamental), seemed to flood the airways and dominate many of my elementary school programs. It was so effective in leaving its mark on me that to this day my adult children will likely cringe at its mention.
From about the time each of my four kids hit the middle of third grade if they came to me frustrated and looking for homework help, after a reassuring hug, I would immediately ask, "Did you read all of the instructions and required materials carefully?" The answer was usually a no, and in reply, I would cheerfully chime, "Remember, R.I.F."
There would be heavy sighs and the occasional eye roll, but then they would sit down and thoroughly read through the instructions, summary, or assigned chapter and miracle of miracles the answers they needed would usually reveal themselves!
Now the original R.I.F. initiative was not aimed specifically at careful reading or reading comprehension, but that is how it impacted me most. I was already a strong reader when R.I.F. was launched in my school, but what I soon learned separated me from many of my peers was not skimming and making assumptions on any reading assignments or task instructions.
Math kicked my butt through most of my education, but I made it through by carefully reading and then re-reading the concepts, steps, and formula standards. Even if it looked familiar, I read every line.
I don't take short cuts when reading. Can I be a bit intense about it? Absolutely. I'm that lady who reads EVERY user agreement in its entirety. But it has served me well.
I am not exaggerating when I often state that reading and public libraries saved and forever changed my life. I was a poor kid growing up and lived in one of New York City's most notorious neighborhoods, Washington Heights. I was often frightened and hungry as a child, but I also had the world on tap. All of it. For free.
It was through reading and libraries that I turned my life from being an almost certain statistic to working my way to a successful career in journalism and publishing. The only way I even knew that was possible was by reading the works of others who had found their own ways up and out.
As an adult, everything from my faith to my politics is shaped by the careful and continual consideration of the vast amounts of information freely available to me both in books and online.
It was Maya Angelou who framed my motivations best, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." But you have to commit to knowing better first.
All of this is to say how critical it is that we as a community, as a state, as a nation become or remain careful readers.
Information is now at most of our fingertips, and yet many of us won't even read past the headline of a news article or the first sentence of a social media post. Never mind look to secondary sources when questioning something published.
That's a dangerous gamble in this time of "fake news" and deep political tensions. We cannot afford to be willfully ignorant. We will not be successful in bridging any divides if we allow poorly informed knee-jerk reactions to replace knowledgeable conversations and works.
We can do better. All of us, and it starts with something as simple as remembering R.I.F.
Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.