A few months ago, I was shocked by something I read on Facebook. In the fevered weeks prior to the US election, it seemed as if all social media was politically charged, even if not directly about that vote. It was equally engrossing and taxing: so many thoughts; so many emotions. So much influence to be exerted before polls closed.
Doing what I do, I’m painfully conscious of how information travels, and the critical skills people employ when consuming and sharing it. This is no more obvious than online, where the ability to consume and comment is available to anyone — and all on permanent record. The US election shone a light on this: News coverage has since been criticized by all factions, while the proliferation of “fake news” shows how important properly researched news — and a thoughtful audience for this news — is to the functioning of our society.
Soapbox aside, the post which shocked me was surprisingly not about the race south of the border, but a political issue on this side of the 49th parallel. As expected, there was a flurry of knee-jerk reaction. But one person had the audacity to post this: “I don’t know enough about this subject to comment.”
The words “I don’t know” struck me by the weight of their humility and honesty — and their scarcity in today’s conversation. Not only does everyone rush to have an opinion, they also rush to express it, regardless of how researched or relevant it is. How refreshing for someone to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers!
While I tend to keep my opinions to myself for varied reasons, I’m also guilty of thinking I know too much. I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m back in school, but never what field of study I’m delving into. People who know me — including myself, occasionally — chuckle when I reveal that I’m learning about public relations.
Back in journalism school, public relations was cheekily referred to as “the dark side” for its ceaseless persuasion of public opinion. Yet, aside from this column, I find I’m regularly working on this dark side. Public relations is closely related to journalism, so much of its process comes naturally to me. But the more I work, the more I realize there’s much I don’t know. The brightness of the metaphorical lightbulb that went off when I realized a return to school was positively blinding.
As I return to the classroom to learn some new tricks, Dear Charlotte is learning one of the greatest tricks of all: how to read. Last year, her Kindergarten class was split with Grade 1 students; she benefitted greatly from learning sounds and sight words. She picked up a few words here and there, but her curiosity and appreciation went no further.
Two months ago, she had her own lightbulb moment: She suddenly learned how to sound out words she did not know, so she could conquer age-appropriate material. The frustration that once halted a reading session has ebbed and her confidence increased. Charlotte has become voracious in acquiring her new skill, and unafraid to ask for help in achieving it.
How often do we ask for help, for understanding, to get through our day and develop our world outlook? I think that admitting that we don’t know is one of the smartest things we can do: It’s the only way we can learn more.
Post-Christmas, I found myself with a lot of leftover cheese; this was an indulgent and practical dish for much of it!
Over-the-Top Mac and Cheese
(from House & Home, Nov. 2016)
3 cups grated two-year-old cheddar (1/2 cup for garnish)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. flour
2 ½ cups whole milk
2/3 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
½ tsp. coarse salt
¼ tsp. chipotle chili powder, plus more for garnish
1/8 tsp. garlic powder, plus more for garnish
1-375g box shaped pasta, such as macaroni
Melt butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture turns foamy and beige, about 2 minutes. Switch to whisk and slowly add milk, whisking constantly. Continue cooking and stirring until sauce thickens, 6 to 8 minutes.
Remove from heat. Stir in remaining 2½ cups cheddar, Monterey Jack, salt, chipotle and garlic powder until cheese is melted. Set aside.
Cook pasta as directed, less two minutes, until almost cooked through yet slightly firm. Drain, then rinse under cold water. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or oil an 8-inch baking dish. Add pasta to pot with sauce and stir until evenly coated. Scrape into prepared dish. Sprinkle with reserved cheddar and a bit of chipotle and garlic powder.
Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes until bubbling. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serves six.