My friend and former MTV Street Team colleague Anthony Wojtkowiak suggested I check out this TED Talk by his boss Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute. I recommend that you take 15 minutes of your life to do the same.
Our world has become more polarized and more divided along political and ideological lines. So much so that we just don’t get anything done.
I mean, really. The best example is the United States Congress during the administration of President Barack Obama. Sure. The GOP isn’t fooling anyone when they tell us, “No. It has nothing to do with Obama’s skin color. It’s his ideology.” But to a small degree, we could probably take them at their word.
I pride myself on being able to have intelligent, substantive social media conversations with my diverse group of friends, fans, followers and folks I know on Facebook. But many of these passionate conversations simply get out of hand. We start talking past each other instead of talking to each other.
Brooks struck me mostly because I’ve caught myself speaking from this trap. In his TED Talk he says:
Now, I don’t have to tell anybody in this room that we’re in a crisis, in America and many countries around the world with political polarization. It’s risen to critical, crisis levels. It’s unpleasant. It’s not right.
There was an article last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which is one of the most prestigious scientific journals published in the West. And it was an article in 2014 on political motive asymmetry. What’s that? That’s what psychologists call the phenomenon of assuming that your ideology is based in love but your opponents’ ideology is based in hate. It’s common in world conflict.You expect to see this between Palestinians and Israelis, for example.
What the authors of this article found was that in America today, a majority of Republicans and Democrats suffer from political motive asymmetry. A majority of people in our country today who are politically active believe that they are motivated by love but the other side is motivated by hate.
Think about it. Think about it. Most people are walking around saying, “You know, my ideology is based on basic benevolence, I want to help people,but the other guys, they’re evil and out to get me.” You can’t progress as a society when you have this kind of asymmetry. It’s impossible.
And he’s right. I’ve caught myself saying it about Trump supporters and Tea Party conservatives. But just like Anthony said to me when we spoke by phone yesterday, “Trump supporters are mostly just angry.” They are angry because the American Dream was supposed to make their lives better than their parents. Instead, for many it is worse. And for most, we see our children growing up in and even more dismal environment.
So how do we fix it?
Well, we don’t fix it by yelling at each other. It’s actually best that we have a lot of diverse viewpoints in a room when we’re looking to solve the huge gigantic problems of our day like healthcare or the cost of higher education or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or whether the NCAA should pay college athletes.
Let’s start by being quiet, and listening to each other. Let’s listen to Arthur Brooks. You don’t have to agree with him, or with me, but will it hurt you to listen for 15 minutes? And then will it hurt you to stop for a moment the next time you’re about to turn fire engine red because of something somebody said on social media? Stop. Take a deep breath. Think about whether the person you’re arguing with is making a valid point. Don’t just get enraged because you know she is a raging Hillary Clinton supporter.
Let’s face it. After the election is over, we’ll all still have to get something done, right? Hopefully those bozos in Congress will listen too.