Op-Ed

Buck Ryan: May you find meaning in a happy news year

The Greeks shall inherit the Earth.

The sweet notion crossed my mind somewhere between bites of baklava purchased at the Greek Orthodox Church's pastry sale. Then I wondered whether I had paid enough to help the church forestall a financial fate like the one that threatens the mother country.

Why the dark, gooey thought? After all 'tis the season for joy and hope.

Then I flashed back to a bus ride with Maxwell McCombs, one of the founding fathers of agenda-setting theory in mass communications. The theorysuggests that journalists can't tell you what to think, but they can tell you what to think about—everything from Rupp Arena renovations to the European debt crisis.

You don't have to live long to know that life doesn't make sense. Why the baby girl dies and the World War II veteran lives to be 92 nobody knows.

That's why society values truth seekers and meaning makers. Blessed are the poets and the philosophers, the clergy and the scientists, the historians and the journalists.

This Fall semester, marking my 30th year of college teaching, I put Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot on a Journalism 101 exam for the first time. Curiously, while attending the inauguration of re-elected Gov. Steve Beshear, I saw the same Frost poem, "The Road Not Taken," elegantly printed in the back of the program.

What escaped my students was that Frost was preparing them to interview an old codger "ages and ages hence" to hear the story of his success by taking the road less traveled by, except for one thing: passengers had worn the two paths "really about the same."

In other words, people construct their own narratives to make sense of a world that doesn't make sense.

I watched the expression on former Gov. Ernie Fletcher's face when Beshear described the mess he found in Frankfort four years earlier, and Fletcher looked like he had a different narrative in mind.

T.S. Eliot brings forth the bloody knights toward the end of "Murder in the Cathedral" to tell us the truth of what we had just witnessed. They argue first, like journalists, they are "disinterested" parties. Then the last knight delivers the news, circa 1170: Archbishop Thomas Becket committed suicide because he opened the door to his assassins.

Lesson: Beware the disinterested pundits on cable news shows selling you their truths.

Better to read Plato and discover that the fundamental attitude of the philosopher is wonder. Or enjoy a sermon by Father Gino Donatelli at Christ the King Church who sees the world through "rose-colored vestments" and challenges you to flip your "c" and live your life not "scared," but "sacred."

Or chat over coffee whether string theory really can unite quantum mechanics and relativity into a coherent view of the universe.

Or perhaps your preferred way to find order amid chaos is to read history books or articles by journalists who do history in a hurry, especially when the world looks all Greek to them.

Here's to good news: May you have plenty of it to think about in the new year.

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