Even for someone who enjoys following current events, understanding contemporary issues related to politics and international affairs can be extremely challenging. For my friends who do not major in political science, I have noticed that many demur from discussing, debating, and exploring controversial subjects with me. Yet, politics is not just for those majoring in it, and it’s up to all of us to be informed about the issues and topics that shape our daily lives. Keep reading for tips to help you understand complex political matters, respond to upsetting information, and engage in meaningful conversations with those with whom you may disagree.
Utilize publications that help provide context to complex matters.
The New York Times, Council on Foreign Relations, and The Economist are some of my favorite reliable sources when it comes to current events. I strongly encourage my UMass peers to take advantage of The New York Times free subscription available to all students. By downloading The New York Times app, you can easily browse top news stories and receive live updates on major events.
Although The New York Times is a valuable publication, I can’t always get the background information and historical context I need to feel informed on certain topics. For example, while The New York Times may report on live updates from Afghanistan, it is rare that you will find a comprehensive analysis of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan over several decades. In these cases, I find the Council on Foreign Relations and The Economist to be particularly helpful. The Council on Foreign Relations provides clear and concise “explainers'' and “backgrounders” on a wide array of foreign policy topics. Similarly, The Economist is great for making broad topics feel much more manageable. Whether you are well versed in foreign policy or don’t know where to start, you can be assured that there are sources that cater to all of your current event needs.
Balance mental health when it comes to staying informed.
I’m not going to lie, current events can be depressing. There are many sad things in the world around us ranging from the effects of climate change to poverty, disease, and conflict. Thus, it’s important to find a balance that allows you to stay informed without constantly inundating yourself with upsetting information. Personally, I find climate change to be deeply saddening, and I occasionally need to turn off my phone or not read that one last article.
However, choosing not to read about the impacts of climate change does not mean it doesn’t exist. As a result, avoiding current events in their entirety is not an effective coping mechanism. After all, the first step to addressing these problems is to be in the know. By turning my attention away from my sadness, and toward solutions, I feel equipped to make a difference when it comes to causes I care deeply about. This can include voting for politicians whose goals align with my interests, joining clubs such as MASSPIRG and Sunrise, or simply taking steps to reduce my own carbon footprint.
Remember that the goal is not to always be right.
When it comes to discussing current events, it is important to remember that the goal is not to prove the other person wrong, and it’s certainly not effective to insult whoever it is you're talking to. These issues are complex for a reason, so take a step back and allow yourself to consider the positions held on both sides, as well as any historical context that may be relevant. Studying foreign policy usually raises more questions than it answers, and that is okay. Rather than making it your goal to firmly hold one strong stance, enter discussions with an open mind and actively listen to what the other person is saying. Moreover, try to seek out conversations with people you may not agree with. Rather than simply “preaching to the choir,” you will gain much more by talking with someone who challenges your pre-existing beliefs and encourages you to think deeply. Learning how to be compassionate, understanding, and respectful during these difficult conversations can help you in all aspects of your life. If things get heated, you can agree to disagree, but the most important thing is to get the dialogue started and keep it going.
Making yourself well-informed takes effort, but the time and energy devoted to unpacking the world around you is well worth it. By incorporating some of these strategies into your daily life, you will engage in meaningful conversations whenever and wherever you are, whether it's at parties, in class, or over coffee.