The other day, I had a great conversation with my friend Brad, who I’ve known for going on thirty years. Brad is one of my favorite people, and also happens to be one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Since high school, we’ve routinely engaged in discussions about political and social issues, and 90% of the time, we disagree. You see, while neither of us are “far right” or “far left”, we’re about the same distance from the center, but on opposite sides.
If you’re wondering whether I’m the right-leaning or left-leaning person in my conversations with Brad, I’m afraid that’s not a question I’m going to answer. When I started this blog, I decided that I wasn’t going to talk politics. Maybe that will change someday, but today is not that day. What I want to talk about today isn’t my opinions on political or social issues, but rather some thoughts on political and social discourse. The point I’m hoping to make is that there’s a benefit to considering messages (conversational and otherwise) from people who don’t share your views.
Here in the United States, in addition to all of the other stressors involved in COVID-19, the crisis has intensified the already polarized nature of news media, social media, and culture wars. And it’s never been easier to stay in your echo chamber, because not only can we choose to limit our news programs, Twitter feeds, etc. based on our existing opinions, but we’re also much more constrained in terms of the people we encounter and speak with in our day to day lives.
All this makes me think about something Aaron Sorkin wrote (several times, because of his tendency to reuse dialogue):
This past October, John Baldoni published an article in Forbes where he addressed this very topic. He explains that listening to opposing viewpoints, with an open mind, allows us to examine our own beliefs, seek common ground, and work towards solutions. Personally, I believe that the first step to bringing people together is to confront the things that have kept us divided.
I watch CNN and Fox News. I read National Review and The New York Times. In forming my opinions, I consider information, and analysis, from a variety of perspectives, and once those opinions are formed, I do my best to stay open to changing them. I cherish my conversations with Brad, not only because he’s a dear friend, but also because they help me examine and refine what I believe. Sometimes, despite our drastically different leanings, one of us changes the other’s mind. No matter what, we both walk away from those conversations better informed, more thoughtful, and more engaged.
There’s a lot to unpack here, and I’m planning to return to this topic soon. For now, I’d like to encourage you to seek out a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, whether it’s in the media or in your social and family circles. I firmly believe that what we need right now is an informed, open-minded public, and an elevated level of discourse. We can all choose to be part of that.