Our lives are incredibly busy. To simplify we’ve invented thousands of apps and instant services that make things easier. When it comes to politics, it only makes sense that we’ve done the same.
From the local and state level all the way to our federal government, a lot takes place in a single day. Even the most voraciously informed of us aren’t capable of digesting all of the news and the rest of us don’t want to deal with a lot of it. So we opt for a Cliff Notes of the day’s events. That means choosing a form of trusted media–NYT or Fox News. WaPo or Breitbart. With our media comes a binary option. Liberal or Conservative. Red or blue. Black Lives Matter or Police Lives Matter.
We don’t do “&” very well these days.
When we tune into Facebook, we’re served up stories based on what an algorithm thinks we “want” to see. That’s not the same as what we “need” to see. Stories with the potential to challenge our POV may never cross the feed.
As a result we retreat into “choose your side” politics. If you support the right, your news feed provides the ammo you need to defend your stance.
When you exit the digital realm and enter real life, you present yourself as a republican or democrat. There’s little wiggle room in between. In conversation you often hear the words, “the other side” as if we are not one people made up of different beliefs, but two distant, hardly recognizable armies.
If you’re a liberal and you “Like” Fox News so you can tune into what they’re saying across the aisle, you’re likely to be branded a traitor for it on social media. The way many people see it: you’re either one of us or you’re one of them. We are quick to write anyone off with a dissenting opinion.
Taking sides has its advantages.
It helps differentiate friends and enemies. It weeds out the people we disagree with out of our life. It brings those who agree close to us, and pushes away all the others. With such great distance between folks of different beliefs, it seems we’ve given up the possibility of having civil discourse.
Here’s one example to the contrary: my dad is close friends with a neighbor who lives across the street. My dad is emphatically liberal, sees value in taxes, and would never own a gun. His neighbor is a staunch conservative, who doesn’t believe he owes the government a penny, and has a bunch of guns.
They talk about politics sometimes. More often they talk about their dogs and about the going’s on in the neighborhood and their favorite restaurants. You know what they get the most up in arms about? Who’s going to pick up the check when they’re out to eat. Even with strong political differences, they can see that their shared values are far stronger. They both care for their families more than anything. They’re both small business owners. They’re both filled with compassion for humans and will greet you with a bear hug when you see them.
Today our political tension is through the roof. When a conflict arises, people file neatly into their pre-chosen sides, with little critical thinking and much finger pointing. Everything that happens further emphasizes whatever you believe in. There is little learning. There is little improving. There is what feels like complete and total stalemate.
Nothing will change if we choose to avoid those whom we disagree with.
If we aren’t willing to listen to another perspective, we rob ourselves of an opportunity to grow. If there’s anything that can help us address our national problems, it’s shared dialogue. It takes energy, it takes focus, it takes commitment.
If you go out looking for the things that divide us you’ll find plenty. But if you look for what unites us, you’ll be able to find that too. So go ahead and try it out. Talk to someone you consider to be on “the other side.” Have a conversation and see if there are some things you both believe to be true.
At the end of the day, both “sides” live in the same neighborhoods, eat at the same restaurants, and send their kids to the same schools. Let’s create more spaces that provide a real opportunity to talk about things that matter and hear others out.
If worse come to worse, we can always agree to disagree.