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Superlatives Aren’t Always Supreme

Breaking news. Red alert. Crisis status. Influencers. Clickbait. Notifications. Do any of these sound familiar to you? If you watch the news, scroll on social media or put your phone down for more than 10 minutes, you are likely to be overwhelmed with messages trying to get your attention.

While the number of organizations and apps that are competing for your time and focus continues to grow, the one thing that remains constant is that there are 86,400 seconds in every day to do anything — sleep, eat, pray, play, work or anything else. But the demand for your attention continues to grow. And how we handle that is a huge challenge.

Those who are trying to be noticed are facing more competition, so they resort to increasingly extreme language to stand out among the crowd. A simple thunderstorm might now elicit a “red alert” weather statement from the local news station, for instance. I can’t help but think about Aesop’s fairy tale, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”

Unfortunately, this trend of overemphasizing everything has extended to political candidates. Anyone running for office needs to build “name identification” because if you do not know that person’s name, you probably aren’t going to vote for them.

In the February edition of The Tennessee Magazine, I encouraged you to pay closer attention to your local political races and get involved in your own community. Your school board members, county commissioners or state representatives have a greater effect on your daily life than most people acknowledge. However, it is impossible to ignore the impact that the presidential election this fall is having on campaigns — whether in Washington, D.C., or Warren County.

Now that the major-party candidates for president are known, inevitably one or both will tell you, “This is the most important election in our lifetime,” or, “If you don’t vote for me, the country will never be the same.”

This is the politician’s version of clickbait. It is meant to evoke fear and cause you to spend a few of those precious 86,400 seconds of your day devoting your thoughts to the election. But these types of statements are not unlike salesmen offering free samples to encourage you to consider their products or the old newspaper adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Getting your attention is the goal.

It is true that our country has significant challenges, and our federal government is facing important policy decisions. Unfortunately, those types of superlative statements don’t always reflect reality.

However, I would argue that we have faced many, many more serious challenges and existential threats in our nation’s history. Some of those stories are detailed in a wonderful book called “The Soul of America” by our fellow Tennessean, Jon Meacham. He very eloquently shows that our nation has always won “the battle for our better angels” and surmises that we will face many more.

While I will likely share thoughts in this column throughout the rest of this year about the policy challenges that confront your local cooperative and the reliability of the electric grid, I encourage you to look past this year’s grandiose speeches and shock-value statements by presidential candidates. This election will be important, but your choice should be based on your own vision for the future, not by an attempt to manipulate your attention.

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