I’m going to start with a very brief two-paragraph history of my own: I grew up with the network news on in the background daily when my dad would get home from work. Then 9/11 happened when I was a college freshman, living on campus. I stopped watching the news about two weeks later, primarily because of all the fear and hatred being spread around. The network news broadcasts were starting to remind me of the two-minutes hate in 1984, which I had recently re-read at the time. The news was also constantly on wherever there was a television set at my college and it quickly became overwhelming for me.
So I went cold turkey and purposely didn’t watch any news at all for about a decade, aside from clips that were shown during college classes or occasional documentaries I watched. My quality of life improved significantly and immediately upon cutting broadcast news out of my life. I periodically would read news articles – but they were mainly local or relevant to my life in some other way. I heard about significant international events primarily through blogs or personal interactions with friends. Over the last 5 years I’ve slowly added in more written news stories that are of interest to me and carefully avoided much broadcast news, preferring to read the news rather than watch or listen to it anyhow.
Given my news hiatus, it seems obvious to me that, in the past 15 years, things have not gotten better on the spreading fear and hatred to everyone front. Instead they appear to have gotten remarkably worse.
***Now, I want to be very clear that not all fear is unjustified – fear is not a dirty word and it doesn’t imply anything negative in and of itself. Healthy fear can even be life-saving at times.***
However, I would like to encourage all of you, my friends and readers, to look deeply into the things you fear and consider why you fear them and maybe even if you should fear them. It can be difficult to do this at first, it certainly has been for me, but it gets much easier with practice.
These are some of the things that have helped me the most with my own endeavor towards greater understanding of opposing viewpoints and that I think might possibly be of use to others – feel free to take note of any that sound helpful and leave the rest:
Seek out and listen to numerous perspectives.
Consider staying away from the more dramatic news sources or at least limiting their influence in your life.
Keep at least one or two reasonable friends who don’t hold the same political stances as you do.
Have calm, reasonable discussions with friends who don’t share your political beliefs.
Listen, listen, listen!
Ask for clarifications before assuming what someone meant – especially if they didn’t explicitly say it.
Clarify your own words when asked.
Try to avoid becoming defensive or thinking that someone merely said what you were expecting them to say – especially, again, if they didn’t explicitly say it with their words.
Move beyond pithy, partisan sound-bites and dig more deeply into the issues.
Take frequent (or even long) breaks if you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed. A wise friend of mine once said that the words will still be here when you come back. To a degree, that can sometimes not be true if people decide not to stand by what they said and instead delete comments, but hopefully you’ll be mainly talking to reasonable people who are willing to let their words stand for the sake of the larger discussion even if they’ve since changed their perspective.
Set boundaries for what topics you are not willing to talk about in an online group setting. For example: I have no desire to talk about gun control. I have good friends on both sides and have a good grasp of both sides, I’m somewhere in the middle, and those discussions get nasty very quickly these days. I don’t see any reason for me to either host or participate in those discussions at this point when I can instead save my energy for topics that I still need or want to delve into more thoroughly.
It has been well worth my while to listen open-mindedly to a diverse mix of people and I believe that more people doing so can only benefit our society as a whole – particularly in these fearful and divisive times.