In 2018, politics in America is totally polarized, and views are entirely contained in both conservative and liberal echo chambers without the allowance for opposing dialogue or debate. From the right, if you disagree with their opinions then you are immediately labeled a ‘snowflake’ or a ‘libtard,’ and from the left, you are immediately branded a ‘fascist’ or ‘racist’ without fail. I have slowly removed myself from the political debate because it is no longer a dialogue of opposing views trying to find common ground to make everything better as a whole, but it is a cesspool of namecalling and hatemongering in the name of that group’s views. I have asked myself on several occasions; what would it take to get people from both sides to turn off the noise of hate and anger and turn on understanding and empathy at the other side’s opinions? The answer has to be real communication and conversation that will never occur in the 140 character soundbite world of Twitter or the 15-second soundbite of the news media. But, a real discussion between both sides will only happen when they meet to talk face to face and agree to do so without the angst and anger that so often pervades today’s politics. Can America come together and really start communicating? Or, as a Nation, have we gone too far down the path of quick to anger and ready to block social media echo chambers where only our opinion matters and that is the only opinion we want to hear?
Before I answer those two questions, I want to look at the many things that have changed during my lifetime as they pertain to the world we live and the way we communicate. In 1970, there were only three national broadcast networks for news, CBS, NBC, and ABC. Many local and national newspapers shared the print news twice daily, morning and afternoon. Our access to information was limited to those sources, and they seemed to be reasonably reliable sources with Walter Cronkite being the most-trusted anchormen in the country during that time. The nation believed he was giving us the facts and only facts as he knew them without slanting them towards one side of the political spectrum or the other. But, the late sixties and early seventies were also a time of great political upheaval with the protests against the Vietnam War breaking out on college campuses and the scandal of Watergate threatening to tear the fabric of the nation as the President’s integrity was called into question. Did these events divide the country along political boundary lines? Yes, for a time, but without the 24-hour social media and instant information of the Internet; echo chambers were not constructed, and the two sides were forced to either have face-to-face debate, a snail-mail letter exchange, or telephone conversations to communicate their views. With the skill of critical listening still being practiced by most Americans at that time, the other side’s logical argument could be understood, and both sides could come to an understanding whether they agreed or not; their stance was respectfully received.
In 2018, do people have the critical listening ability that previous generations practiced so well? No, listening to the other person is a lost art because we want only our opinion heard and we do not care about the other person’s opinion or their point of view because, in our own tunnel-visioned world, only our stance matters. In today’s echo chamber of not only politics but life, just MY opinion matters and if you don’t agree with MY opinion, I will shout you down with hate-filled rhetoric or flame you on social media with thirty-seven memes that shout my opinion in an attempt to ultimately drown out any opposition. If that does not work, we resort to blocking that individual we do not agree with instead of actually taking the time to critically listen and understand their point of view.
To answer the questions I posed, I think the nation as a whole has gone too far down the path of instant gratification and instant echoing of our own views that we are mentally unable to critically listen and have an honest, logical, and rhetoric-free discussion. To break the cycle for myself, the next time I find myself in a political debate I will make an effort to listen more critically and attempt to understand the other person’s point of view. And, if I disagree with them, I would hope that person would provide me the same courtesy because only by listening and attempting to understand will we break the echo-chamber cycle that is 2018 politics and interpersonal relationships.