Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's about the Why, not the What!

The other night when driving home from a friends' home I was listening to 99.9 which is now a Progressive talk radio station. Despite my views being quite the opposite of the hosts on this station I find listening to "the other side" to be quite beneficial.

For me it's never been about WHAT the other side believes or how their views differ from mine. It's been about WHY they believe what they believe as well as getting a better feel for what they believe I (and other conservatives believe). The experience, admittedly, isn't always a comfortable one but sometimes you really have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations to learn and grow (for my more liberal friends/readers-- how would you feel listening to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Medved, Dennis Miller, etc. etc.? Would you be uncomfortable or ill at ease?)

What struck me about what I heard was a very pervasive confrontational "us vs. them" vibe-- a similar vibe to what I'm guessing liberals experience when listening to conservative talk radio and television commentators. The vibe was not about trying to understand the other side, it was about how to marginalise and inevitably defeat the other side. Again, a similar vibe to some of the more outspoken conservative pundits out there.

It's come to feel that those who shape or attempt to shape public opinion are taking on a "divide & conquer" strategy. And the talking heads of both the right and the left are equally guilty on this charge. It's no longer about finding common ground, understanding, or agreeing to disagree. It's become about not only attempting to silence but also embarass and downright ruin the opposition. We are becoming our own worst enemies, the worst possible versions of ourselves as a result.

Each side is arguing louder & louder, shouting their beliefs at each other back and forth. Civil debate is dead, in its place is rancorous argument. The truth is, we already know what we believe and what the opposition believes. We already know that by and large we don't agree with the opposition. What we're lacking is a political empathy of sorts. It's not about, nor has it ever really been about WHAT we believe-- it's always been about WHY we believe the way we do. So I challenge you, the next time you engage in a political debate or a discussion. Rather than discuss the "what" of your beliefs, discuss the "why" of your beliefs. A true political discussion, a civil one is centered around reason, logic, and understanding. And when the discussion is focused merely on the "what" rather than on the "why" of one another's beliefs there can never truly be any true understanding. That common ground that has the potential to bring us together will never be found until we, as a culture, better understand one another's beliefs.


drewzepmeister said...

That's the way society seems to be these days. We've got people pushing ideas and belief to one another without even looking at theirs. To me, this I am right and you are wrong mentality has gotta go.

Kevin Moriarity said...

I think this phenomena primarily occurs in the media because it drives ratings. A civil, reasoned discussion would not make good TV or radio - so they are not going to do that. I think people get a little weird when cameras are present at political meetings of various types. I also find that the anonymity of the internet encourages this behavior (your post of November 9th). I've attended a few city council meetings and though there were thorny issues, I didn't witness any incivility. I want to be as informed as I can, but I can't watch partisan TV or listen to partisan radio anymore - it's all just too stupid - like Jerry Springer for politics!

tornwordo said...

I think the civility in politics of the past is long gone. The underlying theme seems to be "if you don't think like I do, you're an idiot" and of course why would we want to understand an idiot's "why". After all, idiocy is idiocy, right?

Susan as herself said...

Kevin is right about the ratings...

I can tell ya as a semi-insider to this station (my company owns it) and also as someone with friends who work at WGN, that curreently radio personalities are being told to "be more opinionated," "push the envelope," "be more foreceful in delivery," etc. The managers and owners know that heated arguments, yelling, and controversial approaches to communication (often dysfunctional and unpleasant) drive up ratings. Sad but true.


On the other hand, these stations don't make me nod off like the hushed agreeable tones on NPR. Hahaha!

Perplexio said...

drew: Incidentally Barry Goldwater & JFK were good friends in the senate despite their rather different political philosophies. They had planned to do a series of civil debates on the issues for the 1964 presidential campaign. Unfortunately, with JFK's assassination that never happened. Instead we got the infamous daisy ad from the LBJ camp.

Kevin: Controversy does drive ratings. I can't argue that. But look at the cost! Our nation is becoming increasingly more divided as a result of ratings driven "debate" and "news" coverage.

Tornwordo: "Idiocy" is in the eyes of the beholder. If your focus is limited to what the opposition believes and you believe that their beliefs are idiotic nothing is being solved. Nothing can be solved when there's no attempt to determine WHY the opposition is afflicted with such "idiocy."

susan: I once heard an album by Garbage being reviewed on NPR. It sounded so out of place. Garbage's music does not inspire boredom, but somehow the NPR review of Garbage's then new album was better than Ambien or Lunesta.