Sunday Mail Column 12-9-10: The one about Critical Thinking
I found myself eating a large serve of humble pie this past week. As part of the Brisbane Writers Festival I was asked to interview Jessica Watson. Yes, THAT Jessica Watson. The Jessica Watson who on 15 May 2010 at the age of sixteen sailed into Sydney Harbour and in doing so became the youngest person to sail solo, unassisted, non-stop around the world.
Like many I was dubious of the whole trip when I first saw Jess on the TV news back in 2009 talking about her plan. What are her parents thinking? I mumbled shaking my head. Why isn’t she at school? I muttered rolling my eyes. I mean, for Pete’s sake, this slip of a girl looked like she weighed about the same as my left thigh (possibly less). And she wanted to embark on an eight-month solo journey at sea? Had she not seen the cautionary tale that is Gilligan’s Island?
Did I know anything about Jessica Watson? Nope. Had I done any investigation myself into her background, her sailing experience, her demeanour? Nope. Was I in fact basing my opinion of her on 30-second TV grabs and the opinions of equally uninformed media commentators? Absolutely.
Before our interview I read Jessica’s book, True Spirit that chronicles her childhood as well as her experience at sea on Ella’s Pink Lady.
What I learnt within the first 20 pages is that Jessica Watson is a sailor. And sometimes age actually is irrelevant. It is blindingly obvious when you read Jessica’s story that she had the experience, the dedication, the know-how, the determination and the mental aptitude to have a damn good shot at achieving her dream. Her parents knew. Her sponsors knew. Leading sailing identities knew. It was just we, the general public, who didn’t know. Didn’t know because we didn’t bother to find out.
My experience with Jessica reminded me of the importance of critical thinking. Whether it’s a sound bite about a teenage sailor or election campaign ads or moronic email petitions about refugees or free laptops – we’ve become lazy news consumers, willing to believe whatever angle we’re fed.
We sat through a recent election campaign eating up the outrageous spin both sides fed us. It’s worth remembering that statistics can be skewed and comments taken out of context. Are “boat people” actually queue jumpers, taking the place of those waiting in refugee camps? The Refugee Council of Australia website will tell you. Did Jessica Watson have much experience at sea? We could have read her 2009 blog. Can I really win a Dell laptop just by forwarding an email to ten people? Google it. We need to get off our backsides, seek out credible information sources and find the answers ourselves.
As for Jessica Watson, well in person she’s a breath of fresh air. Jess speaks with great candour about her experiences in a refreshingly unpolished, humble manner. Is she tiny? Well, yes. But she’s also wise beyond her years. Much wiser than me. Sorry Jess.
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Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.