Staying informed is both a privilege and a responsibility


Last week, a friend of mine, who rarely calls me, did that very thing. Noticing that it wasn’t a spam call, I answered. He asked me a simple non-work-related question, but I didn’t have the answer.

The dialogue went like this:

My friend asked, “Do you know when the next meeting is?”

“I’m not sure, but I know it’s on the website,” I replied.

He insisted, “I don’t have time to look at the website. I’m standing here with someone who wants the answer right now.”

“Well, I think as soon as we hang up, you can probably pull it up on the website. The website works fine on mobile phones. I believe the information you seek is on the home page in the top right corner if memory serves correctly.”

My friend pushed harder, “Look, I don’t have time to load the website on my phone. Do me a favor and as soon as we hang up, will you look it up for me and then call me back with the information?”

The author on the phone. Photo/Joe Domaleski
The author on the phone. Photo/Joe Domaleski

“Are you in distress?” I asked.

“No, why would you say that?” he replied.

“Well, I just don’t understand why you don’t have time to look something up on the website, and we’ve been talking about it for the past few minutes. As soon as we hang up, you could have the information immediately if you looked it up yourself. If I had known the answer to your question, I would have told you, but I don’t. However, I know you can find the answer on the website,” I stated.

My friend got a little testy, “I don’t know why the answer to everything is to look it up online. I’m too busy to fool around with websites. I’ll just call someone else.”

“Hey, before you go, quick question – why did you call me instead of someone else?” I asked.

“Well, Joe, you’re always so well informed. You seem to be plugged in and know what’s going on in the community. I figured you’d just tell me what I needed to know.”

“Fair enough, talk to you later,” I answered.

We ended the call, and I stood there stunned. Honestly, I’m not sure if I should be flattered that he thought I knew the answer to his question or feel foolish that I’m enabling lazy behavior. Maybe I just read too much into the situation. I wanted to tell him the reason I’m well informed is that I seek out information instead of waiting for it to be spoon-fed to me. I know that the information he asked about was sent out several times via email, and it’s on the organization’s website along with other events. This situation got me thinking about whether staying informed is a privilege, a responsibility, or both.

The fact that you, dear reader, are reading this article indicates that you are probably someone who seeks out information on your own. You’re to be commended for that. Have you encountered situations like the one I described above? Does it frustrate you, or do you enjoy being a conduit of information? I like being helpful, I really do. An occasional “lazy question” from a friend doesn’t bother me, and I’ve probably done my fair share of that when I can’t find something – but I always start with the premise of trying to find information myself. I can’t imagine waiting for information to find me.

It’s a privilege in our great country to have access to information – we have a free press, (mostly) open government, the right to free speech, and the increasingly wild world of online information via websites and social media. If you wait for a computer algorithm to serve up the information it thinks you need to know, then you’re going to be trapped in an illusory world of make-believe. Burst the bubble of misinformation and take responsibility for your information. A few weeks ago, I listed some of my favorite news sources, and that spurred some great dialogue where I learned about even more places for information.

Don’t abdicate your responsibility to stay informed. Be deliberate in knowing what’s going on around you – at home, at work, in the local community, and in the world at large. Be mindful of rumors, gossip, and speculation. Always seek the truth from a diversified set of information. Things are rarely black and white. Truth is often nuanced because it has to go through a human filter.

Here are some tips on staying educated and upholding your responsibility to be an informed person:

  • Use technology to your advantage and automate your information gathering. Most modern organizations, including this newspaper, put out email newsletters. Sign up for them and let information come to you. Even if I don’t immediately read an email newsletter, I have it there for reference. Our local Chamber of Commerce, municipalities, and government officials put out information regularly.
  • Develop good information-gathering habits. I make it a point every day to keep up with the news by having it as a task on my daily to-do list to remind me (note: I use Things 3 for MacOS and iOS for task management).
  • Seek diversified opinions and advice. Don’t let others tell you what to think. Evaluate evidence and formulate your own opinions. Most people do not have access to “the big picture” of any situation.
  • Avoid gossip and rumors. Gossip is rarely true, although it may have at one time been based on a nugget of truth. When you hear a rumor, an immediate concern should be “why is this person telling me this?” Are they trying to sabotage someone or something? Are they bitter about something? Is there a legitimate concern that should be investigated further? If you believe a rumor has merit and may impact you, then seek out the truth. We live in a small community, and what goes around comes around. Don’t become known as a gossiper.
  • Withhold opinions unless there’s a need to express them. Some things are better left unsaid. I have a hard time with this personally because I like to talk and engage in discussions. Indeed, I’m a professional marketer, so it’s my business to promote things and be communicative. Discretion is advised. Just because you hear a rumor, questionable assertion, or obviously biased statement doesn’t mean you need to weigh in on it. We’ve all gotten sucked into “flame wars” by internet trolls. Just walk away unless there’s a very compelling reason to chime in. If someone says something blatantly false about someone or something I care about, I will take a stand – but not everything warrants that.
  • Trust, but verify. In general, I tend to trust people and assume the best of everyone – sometimes to my detriment. Life is too short to be mean and challenge everyone directly. On the other hand, taking responsibility for information means verifying its truth. This is especially difficult if you’re a leader who relies on the advice and information from others in an organization. Last year, I made the mistake of relying on someone who I thought was doing their job but wasn’t. It created an awkward situation that required a careful solution. The good news is that the situation was resolved, and we learned from it.
  • Don’t be a burden to others. No one enjoys the needy friend who is always asking everyone what’s going on because they’re too lazy to find out for themselves. If you do need help, let others know you tried to find out the information and what you were able to find. Doing that shows you are committed to an answer and may help the person you’re asking to better understand the context of your question.

Staying informed is a privilege and responsibility that demands both curiosity and diligence. In an earlier article I wrote about the importance of data. Whether it’s a rumor, meme, blog post, or an opinion from an individual person we know that a single data point is not enough information to develop any sort of credible opinion. Avoid gossip, rumors, and speculation that that’s overtly negative. Developing a hypothesis or trend line requires multiple data points. Seek out information from a wide variety of sources and do so regularly. Doing so will help you better understand the world around you. Being well-informed is not just for our benefit but it also helps our community when we have an educated citizenry.

How do you stay informed?

[Joe Domaleski, a Fayette County resident for 25 years, is the owner of Country Fried Creative – an award-winning digital marketing agency located in Peachtree City. His company was the Fayette Chamber’s 2021 Small Business of the Year.  Joe is a husband, father of three grown children, and proud Army veteran.  He has an MBA from Georgia State University and enjoys sharing his perspectives drawing from thirty years of business leadership experience. Sign up for the Country Fried Creative newsletter to get marketing and business articles directly in your inbox. ]