A breath of fresh air. A filter. Some perspective.

Posted 8/18/21

The picture accompanying this column was taken at an overlook near Cataloochee Valley in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains. My wife and I had a weekend getaway to the Maggie Valley area …

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A breath of fresh air. A filter. Some perspective.

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The picture accompanying this column was taken at an overlook near Cataloochee Valley in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains. My wife and I had a weekend getaway to the Maggie Valley area recently and on that Saturday evening, we drove up and over a mountain — on the narrow, nerve-wracking, switchback-filled Cove Creek Road, which featured three miles of a washboard, pothole-filled gravel “two-lane” (and a Bigfoot statue) — to the valley itself.

We wanted to check out the wild elk herd which comes out at dusk to graze on the grasses of the valley floor. Seeing them up close, with just a few other onlookers, was a rare treat and worth the white-knuckle drive.

This picture — which I took with my iPhone — was enhanced with some editing: I boosted the color, did some sharpening and added a frame, all in an effort to make it look better.

I enjoy seeing great shots on my friends’ Instagram pages with the “#nofilter” hashtag, which is a way of saying: “What I’m sharing with you is so spectacular it doesn’t need a filter.” But sometimes a filter, or a little enhancement, improves a two-dimensional photo — like this one — to make it more representative of what you’d see, and experience, in person.

I was reminded of that when I awoke one morning a few days later to a text message from a friend asking me about Chatham County’s new mask mandate. He read (not in the News + Record) that the county had announced the public mandate effective at 5 p.m. that day, and that as of that time, if you went indoors in a public place, face coverings would be required.

That couldn’t be true, I told him. I said that yes, the county was (as of that day) asking vaccinated and unvaccinated people entering county government facilities to mask up, but as of yet, Chatham had not announced a return to the kind of mandates we had earlier this year.

Apparently, the source my friend read had put its own filter on a piece of news, leading to an inadvertent misinterpretation.

Many of us have been pulling together our face coverings (mine have been stuffed inside my car’s front console) in preparation for masking-up requests by some businesses and potential new mandates.

Masks are a form of a filter, too, of course. And we know that mixed messages, and misinformation — other forms of filters — are rampant.

Chatham County commissioners met on Monday night; a mask mandate issue wasn’t on the agenda, which was a surprise given that more and more municipalities and counties are announcing them. The meeting ultimately adjourned without any new announcements, but still, they may come.

In the meantime, we ask: To mask or not? To filter or not?

Many days, I have exchanges with #nofilter friends and family members about COVID, the vaccines, masks and mandates. A year into this, I’ve not persuaded anyone whose opinions differ from mine to change their mind on those subjects. Nor has anyone with whom I’ve disagreed swayed me.

But what has become clear is the fact that most of us develop our views on such things based on information we’ve filtered through our own pre-COVID biases and narratives. We apply our own spin, our own filter, to what we believe to be true. And what we believe to be true is often filtered itself by the time it reaches us.

Filters can be helpful. Sometimes they enhance the picture, clarify it. But choosing to apply them haphazardly to those with whom we disagree — whilst simultaneously ignoring our own carefully-chosen filters — doesn’t always sharpen the picture.

So choose them wisely.

Bill Horner III can be reached at bhorner3@chathamnr.com or @billthethird.


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