Our country is awash in opinions, reds and blues, conservative, liberal, and everything in between. It’s not a new phenomenon because of COVID-19, as Americans, we have always been a diverse bunch. Our perspectives are formed from the youngest ages based on the homes we grew up in and the life experiences we have under our belt. Couple that with the algorithms on social media that funnel us to the next article to reinforce our opinion, rather than steer us toward a different perspective on an issue, and we have the makings of a country divided. I was raised in a political home, my dad held public office from the time I was seven until I was 24, but it’s that same home that taught me that America is made of many different faces, experiences, and opinions, and that was what made us great. You may not agree with everyone, but there was never a harsh or demeaning word about someone that didn’t sit on the same side of the aisle, or hold the point of view that he held. Although I hold back on politics every time I sit down to write, there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t take in the perspectives of my favorite columnists, the weekly political roundtable on NPR, and the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. Point being, I’m informed, but not entrenched and I like it that way.
Realizing that we are dealing with some very diverse and serious opinions these days on big American issues like civil liberties and constitutional rights, the current state of the world, especially on social media has me thinking. How can we all be a little less activated and more able to listen when people have something they want to say. As humans, it’s in our DNA to want to connect with each other, feel understood, and be seen and heard. As I sat scrolling and reading this morning I jotted down a few of my thoughts:
1.Be humble. Before we speak, can we take the time to consider our audience and where they may be coming from. That isn’t to say make assumptions on what their opinions are or to that we should tailor our message to fit what they think. We all want space to speak our minds, but when a message is delivered with humility, and not as ‘the only way’, hearts and minds soften. Positive Psychology teaches us that perspective is a human trait that can be developed and improved upon throughout our life. We are never done learning. We need to be strong enough to form our own opinions and not be afraid to speak them, but humble enough to listen and learn when we are exposed to another person’s thoughts. There is never one way to think or do things. Opinions are not facts and if we listen without feeling threatened, it’s been my experience that we come across some amazing life stories.
2. We cannot pressure people into seeing it our way. If we are informed enough to have an opinion, it’s likely that we know at least one other argument on a subject that runs in contrast to our own. If we have the presence of mind to acknowledge at least one, if not more, different thoughts on a matter as we present our own story, it shows that we are informed and interested in learning from someone else’s experience. This is where true connection takes place and real problems get solved. We will never convince anyone to listen to our view if we are shaming them in the process of making our own point. We have to recognize that their opinion was born under other circumstances and a different upbringing or culture. They are not wrong just because they think differently.
3. If our voice can not be heard, how do our actions represent our point of view? Consider what the scene looks like if you were being interviewed but the sound was off on the TV. Imagine people can’t hear your words, but they can read your body language, and see the actions of the crowd surrounding you. Does this scene look compelling or intriguing to someone who does not share your opinion? When we speak, are we trying to create more consciousness or more division? These are honest questions to answer in our own minds before we begin to speak. Opinions are not all of nothing, maybe our thoughts will create a new middle ground…but we have to be articulate and nonjudgmental enough to allow for that to be a possibility. Presenting a point of view has a strong element of emotional regulation tied to it. Anger, fear, chaos, and shame will never bridge a divide. We have to speak and act in a way that diffuses tension and brings people out of fight or flight before minds and hearts can find common ground.
4. We can’t get our feelings hurt or be defensive if people don’t come our way. People say don’t talk politics or religion, but if I were being honest, those are some of my favorite and most life changing conversations. They just need to be discussed in open air, where everyone gets mutual respect, a chance to speak and listen, and even show emotion. We have to cultivate the skills to settle ourselves when other people have different ideas than our own that they are passionate about. We shouldn’t expect that we can show our passion if we don’t have the tolerance for another to show her own. There is no way to do that if we don’t disagree on matters of opinion sometimes. I have some beautiful relationships in this life with people who have different backgrounds and ideas than my own that have offered me my biggest opportunities for growth. Life would be boring if we all thought the same things and far less would be discovered.
In the end, we get to set our own boundaries for what we want to take in everyday in the way of opinions, stories and news. As always, we are in control of our own choices. There have been a lot of days when I silence the noise, and keep my TV’s off, choosing instead to listen to podcasts on sports and psychology. But my heart will always come back to my earliest memories of going with my parents to vote, learning to raise a flag in the flag ceremony because my elementary school principal was a Marine, and knowing that I was born in the greatest democratic experiment ever conducted. I live everyday to do that story justice and like nothing more than hearing about the stories that have brought other people to where they stand today. Those stories have gotten us this far, and we aren’t even close to done yet.