Caution: discomfort zone ahead

If reading or reporting is always a comfortable experience, if it is not challenging us to broaden our worldview and see those who disagree with us as neighbors, then the Monitor is not doing its job.

Jorge Silva/Reuters
Family and friends of those killed in the New Zealand mosque attacks arrive for a burial at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch.

If I were to ask you to make a list of the qualities that you think are essential in good journalism, I suspect our lists wouldn’t be all that different. Factual, fair, transparent, accountable, and ethical might make almost everyone’s list. Monitor readers might add constructive, insightful, compassionate, and credibly hopeful.

But let me add an unusual one that I think is vital, particularly for the Monitor: uncomfortable. By this I don’t mean that Monitor readers shouldn’t feel embraced and respected. Quite the opposite. I mean that reading the Monitor should, at appropriate times, cause every reader some degree of discomfort.

This can result from taking readers to places like Syria or Myanmar where the picture is difficult and where human woe can make us want to look away. But just as important is the Monitor’s role in compelling us, readers and staffers alike, to wrestle with the opposing ideas and ideals that confront us every day. 

If reading or reporting is always a comfortable experience, if it is not challenging us to broaden our worldview and see those who disagree with us as neighbors, then the Monitor is not doing its job.

Over the years, the Monitor has achieved a reputation for fairness. This is not because the Monitor blindly hands its microphone to just anyone. In order to impel the discomfort that supports growth and a truer sense of unity, you have to be fair. Listening to only one side is a recipe for self-satisfied stagnation.

This is why a letter we received after the New Zealand terror attack touched me so much. The brass-tacks purpose of the Monitor is to drive human progress by exploring its higher foundations, and this letter was a beautiful testament to how that can take root in a reader’s thought.

Reader Roberta Werdinger wrote: “Thank you, more than ever. Your careful tone is so important in these­ ­ hyperpartisan times. As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who is watching increasing hatred of all kinds – including anti-Semitism – grow, I am finding my views do not slot into left and right camps very easily. It has been painful, but ultimately liberating, to reduce my unconscious biases. More than any other paper, your publication helps me to do that, and align myself with causes promoting peace, justice, and unity, free of ideological straitjackets.”

The founder of this publication, Mary Baker Eddy, once wrote, “To strike out right and left against the mist, never clears the vision; but to lift your head above it, is a sovereign panacea.”

The Monitor can offer little in the way of solutions to a world that defines “wins” along a left and right political axis. But for those who wish to shed that limiting straitjacket and instead move upward into a yearning for universal peace, justice, and unity, the Monitor promises to be a fellow traveler and friend. That process can, in these hyperpartisan times, be uncomfortable. But it offers a different view and a deeper freedom.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.