When Everyone is a Pundit

During this time of year, a boisterous mockingbird will land on the tree outside my bedroom window every morning to sing at 6 AM. It’s quite a racket. Aside from the decibel level, the song is never consistent. Sometimes, it sounds like other birds. Other times, it sounds like it is mimicking a car alarm.

One of the things that makes a mockingbird unique from other songbirds is that it doesn’t have its own unique song. Most birds learn and memorize from a mentor. But that’s not the case with mockingbirds. They learn sounds from their environment by mimicking what they hear. So if you think about it, the bird outside of my window doesn’t really understand what it is doing when it imitates a car alarm or other sounds in my neighborhood. It is only doing what it feels it needs to do in order to establish territory (and perhaps attract a mate).

It is not unlike what we’re seeing in our world today. The combination of authoritative attitudes, biased Internet searches and news feeds, and raised stakes has turned everyone into a pundit. But like the mockingbird, we’re often just repeating what we’re hearing around us without really understanding what it is we’re saying. How many people are making noises about the current pandemic who have no experience or understanding of infectious diseases themselves? How many are speaking in the utmost authoritative manner of things that they don’t really know?

Like the noisy songbird, many are just trying to guard their territory. Perhaps that territory is familiar traditions, beliefs, and ideas. But you can’t stop a mockingbird from singing by yelling at one (believe me, I’ve tried). In fact, that will only make them louder and more aggressive. Mockingbirds will only stop when the environment no longer feeds them. So too with contentious and sometimes dangerous ideas. And so too with self-appointed pundits.

The next time that you feel the urge to make some noise, ask yourself: where did this song come from? Is it coming from a place of insecurity about my place in this environment or does it reflect the kind of song I’d like to be known for? Sometimes, it’s OK to give it a rest.

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