As some legislators continue to work to bridge the partisanship and divisiveness that seems to pervade every institution these days, most are finding that it is an almost impossible goal, as this article helps show. Why is this the case and, more importantly, why does it matter?
Some point to gerrymandering – the drawing of political districts in a way that favors one party or another – as a major culprit. Others point to all the big money in politics that makes it nearly impossible for independent and moderate 3rd party candidates to get elected. Also, some have suggested that social media has contributed.
It seems to me that all three are to blame for creating the ‘echo chambers’ in which so many of us converse only with others who hold views similar to our own. Gerrymandering means politicians only need to put forth arguments and approaches that cater to one ideological set of beliefs. The absence of moderate and independent candidates who are serious contenders means those voices are missing from the headlines and debates. Moreover, social media allows us all to achieve the same safe and comfortable one-sidedness in our personal and social relationships.
So why does it matter? Here are some of the impacts of having to consider only one side or way of thinking about an issue:
• We begin to think that more people – maybe everyone – see things the way we do than is truly the case. Our sense of reality becomes distorted
• We begin to think that anyone who disagrees with us is wrong or stupid or crazy or must be lying, or even evil
• This makes us even more extreme in our beliefs, leads to name-calling and labeling. We stop listening to other views altogether
The sum total of these effects is what some are calling ‘tribalism,’ a growing sense that only those like me are worth caring about, that it is ok to deprive ‘others’ of all sorts of things. The impact of tribalism is, at its very worst, violence against others. Less abhorrent but just as appalling, it leads to prejudice and exclusiveness.
In its least visible but just as detrimental form, tribalism leads to the complete inability to solve our complex problems, e.g., rising sea levels or education policies, because the discussions become about who is ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ instead of finding the best answers.
Guess who loses… All of us! What can you do about it? Start to talk – and more importantly, listen – to someone with very different views from your own… without judging or trying to convince, just to understand! Start a conversation and then encourage others to do the same.
Dana Morris-Jones is the author of The Power Of Difference, available on Amazon.