I, not they. Me, not you. Us, not them.
If we’re going to embrace conflict and shun contention and heal our fractured democracy, we have to fix us first.
“They’re the problem! They mess everything up. Their crazy politics are ruining everything!” This is a common trap to fall into. For one reason, it is easy, blaming requires no real effort or depth of understanding. Blaming others absolves me of responsibility. Fear, anger, mistrust and animosity are easier than empathy, understanding, collaboration and mutual respect.
Today’s mass media culture where you have easy and nonstop access to media that confirms your point of view isn’t helping. Social media is based on algorithms. It gives us what it thinks we want. Social media makes it even easier to reaffirm our opinions, not challenge them. Social media pushes us to opinion pieces because they get more likes and shares. Opinion pieces are fine but they lack depth in reporting and fail to give much needed background and opposing points of view. Social media also has a tendency to isolate us from people who think differently than we do. Ironically, we have the opportunity to be friends with anyone around the globe, but what we like and share aligns us to those we have most in common with. If you want a diverse opinion in your social media feed, you have to like and share things you do not agree with.
No question, our politics are more tribalistic than ever. This will never change if we adopt the attitude that the only way forward is for “them” to change. I’m convinced no one is coming to save us. We are going to have to reclaim our democracy.
Let me be clear, I do not think we should all come to a consensus on the issues of our time. I don’t think every political issue can be a win-win. I think having a diverse set of opinions is helpful to any vibrant democracy. We should have serious, substantive and frequent debates with those we disagree with the most. However, we should do it in a way that holds our common love of country and fellow man as sacrosanct.
So, what do I need to do to fix me? Here’s a list of my own does and don’ts to create a more civil society:
First: start looking at myself, not others. I can’t blame you for what’s wrong with the government. I’ve spent the last two years carefully reflecting on my own political opinions. Finding the flaws in my logic and trying to challenge my assumptions. What am I doing to contribute to tribalism? How can I stop doing those things?
Second: I have tried to stop preaching to the choir. The more I discuss the world with those who share my worldview, the more I begin to view the world as “us versus them.” I have completely stopped sharing simple memes and snappy one liners on social media that confirm my opinions. They do nothing to broaden my understanding of complex issues and alienate those who do not share my opinions.
Third: I’ve tried to understand where people are coming from. Whenever I find myself saying “I can’t understand why anyone thinks that.” I tell myself, “That’s your problem, not their problem.” I don’t have to agree with someone to understand why they think the way they do. If I don’t understand why someone holds an opinion, that’s an indictment of me not them.
Fourth: I see the need to be more actively involved in the process. It’s not enough to be well-informed. Democracy requires individual action. I need to be involved in the political process: volunteer, donate write about issues and create space for meaningful dialogue. In the future, I hope to post specifically about issues and entertain opposing views.
I’m done screaming at, accusing, belittling, devaluing and dismissing individuals and their beliefs. I’m done trying to fix them. I’m hoping to improve me.