By Kevin Meyer
A couple months ago I wrote a piece titled Listen to the Naysayers that prompted considerable public and especially private reaction. The fundamental premise was that it's pretty much in our nature to not want to listen to contrary opinions and therefore we discount or distance ourselves from people that spout such opinions. However listening to, acknowledging, and considering those opinions may be critically important in our quest to find the best strategies and solutions to problems.
I've been trying to practice my own medicine and seek out opinions that are different from mine, and I've become somewhat sensitized to such ideas as well as situations where being oblivious to different sides of an issue has led to problems.
One such situation just this morning was an update tweeted via Jamie Flinchbaugh on the CPSIA fiasco, which we had also told you about over a year ago. Once again the government looks at and tries to fix "effect" rather than understanding the root cause. And once again a regulatory band-aid is laid on top of a mountain of other band-aids instead of figuring out how to fix the specific underlying issue. And… once again in a year or two we'll try to unravel all the unintended consequences of shallow action. The same happened with health care reform, the same is happening with financial reform. Band-aid after band-aid instead of understanding the true root cause of the problem and channeling and leveraging the creativity of human nature instead of stifling it. Private organizations and even individuals are just as guilty of this disease as the government.
Let me make a spirited attempt to get back on track…
We seem to have lost the underlying understanding of true debate. Debate is not just spewing forth your opinions to convince others. It is making your case, then actively listening to and considering the opposing view, and then having the courage to modify your opinion based on that consideration. Yes, courage. Really listening to the other side of the story – which is very different than listening to how others that agree with your position tell the other side of the story.
I'll return with some fear and trepidation to the example of the government and political arena. As someone firmly in the political center, socially liberal while fiscally conservative and probably more libertarian Ayn Rand-loving than anything, I see this every day. We hear a lot about the polarization of political perspectives, and the growing number of us independents really experience it.
One big reason for the polarization is the lack of true debate.
The left-leaning blogs do nothing but quote other left-leaning information sources, and right-leaning blogs do the same on their end. By effectively looking inward for all their information each becomes convinced in the singular validity of their opinions at the expense of all others. They begin to redefine "left and right" as "the left and right sides of the left" and the "left and right sides of the right"… and come up with crazy terms like DINO (Democrat in Name Only) and RINO to describe those that dare move toward one edge of their bubble of information and perspective. Each side moves further and further apart, leaving those of us in the middle less and less aligned.
Other examples? On the left we have the maligning of Fox News by people who have never watched the channel, and probably don't realize that contrary to most other live news sources they make a point of having two people from wildly different opinions on each topic. You betcha! Or the condemnation of the Arizona immigration bill by people (apparently including our Attorney General) who haven't even read the short 10 page law. But it must be evil – because all of the information sources that agree with them claim it is evil. I personally have a mixed opinion and wish I could find a real debate.
On the right we have a sudden disgust for wasteful spending when Reagan and Bush also increased the size of government, and somehow military spending is on a different plane than spending on human services. Or the condemnation of those that oppose the Arizona immigration law without actively considering their arguments because those who oppose must be evil – because all of the information sources that agree with them claim they are evil. I personally have a mixed opinion and wish I could find a real debate.
Yes I did write that correctly – both sides have failed those of us in the middle. And that's one reason why we have an upsurge of splinter groups on both sides, such as the Tea Party – although that particular one also doesn't exactly represent a center opinion. And in a polarized environment what happens? Groups like the Tea Party are instantly thrashed with code words like "racist" and "violent" and "stupid." Violent? I guess we forgot about the likes of Code Pink and Move On, how they also threw pies and created disruption in an attempt to change the left. Stupid? Even The New York Times showed how Tea Party members are more educated than average. I could make similar arguments for the other side.
Tea Party supporters, similar (hmmm… similar?) to Code Pink and Move On supporters, are dismissed as illiterate radicals. Instead of being listened to and considered. Besides being disingenuous by both sides, there's a lot of danger in that. Not to mention an outright discounting of information and opinion that might lead to solutions. And believe me, with today's problems we need as much from as many different perspectives as we can get.
I try. I watch and listen to both Fox News and MSNBC. Perhaps more for grins I even peruse the forums on both Free Republic and the Democratic Underground. I purposely transposed those hyperlinks to try to make you look! It's actually rather amusing how worked up the lefties on DU are about "Obama's abandonment of progressives" and similarly (similarly?) the Freepers on the Senate Republicans not wanting to mount a fight on Kagan. They are so wrapped up in their left and right information bubbles that they couldn't find a centrist opinion if it sat on them.
So here's your challenge: if you run a left-leaning blog, quote in the positive something from a right-leaning blog (yes, this means you actually have to go and read one). The same if you run a right-leaning blog. If you don't have a blog, find something positive to say about someone with a different opinion. Truly consider the other opinion. If you're on the right, say something good about Obama, and if you're really up to a challenge, Henry Waxman or Nancy Pelosi. If you're on the left find something good to say about Bush, or for a real challenge, Cheney. And I don't mean "I'm glad Bernie Sanders lives 3000 miles from me" or "it's a positive that Bush is out of office." Remember what I said about courage. I know most of you have it in you. Hopefully. I know I could find something good to say about all of them, although I acknowledge it's a bit of a struggle in a couple cases.
There are very, very smart people on all sides of every issue. Discounting a different perspective is not only ignorant, it's dangerous. And wasteful as we attempt to find real solutions to real problems.
Courage. Do you have the courage for a real debate? To actively consider other opinions and to modify your own? To actively explore outside of your traditional information bubbles? Or do you just spinelessly pontificate your own opinion to people that already agree with you? Isn't that also a waste?
Can you work to find real solutions, or only ones that fit your specific perspective and paradigm?
And once again I mean that on a day-to-day basis, not just with our political opinions but in our companies and organizations and even personal lives.