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.