Last night after the awesome Bill Clinton speech, which I watched first through people talking (via Twitter, Facebook and Current.tv, which is thoroughly fascinating during live events) about it and have since watched online. Right afterwards, my friend Deb Schultz, tweeted:
It reminded me of a tweet I saw 4 years ago during the last election. I can't remember who said it at the time, but I decided that day to 'fix' it myself. I combined a bit of the Current stream (found people from the Republican camp that were making intelligent comments) with people I've met along the way who I knew defined themselves as Libertarians or Republican Party members and followed everyone I could. I certainly don't have an ideally balanced network. I'd say people with opposing political views make up about 5% of my stream and maybe 10% of my Facebook, but they are there and I try to listen and engage and understand.
One of these people is someone whose thoughts I really admire. His name is Charles Hope and he is a Facebook friend. I met Charles back in 2005 at a really cool community-organized conference in San Francisco. He was one of the founders of Blip.tv and I was in awe of the stuff they were doing. I had no idea what his political views were, but I thought this startup from New York was awesome. So somewhere along the line as Facebook was growing, Charles and I became friends on the network.
I don't know how he votes, but we definitely have different approaches to how we would like to see the world work. But what I admire about Charles is that he is incredibly educated on what he is talking about. So much so that I find myself taking a step back from my own point of view quite frequently to adjust it. I'd like to think our conversations do the same for him. ;)
But Charles isn't the only one and after an exchange with Deb and some others, I realized that my adding a bit of dissenting/oppositional type diversity to my social stream has taught me some good lessons that I should share out to the world.
LESSON #1: THE 'OTHER SIDE' ISN'T UNEDUCATED OR 'IDIOTIC'
Sure, when I hear someone like Todd Akin talking about super vaginas that can kill a rapists sperm, my first reaction to that comment is, "WTH? What an idiot!" But Akin isn't representative of his entire party (though some people wanted to paint that portrait). And though the comment wasn't very informed, he was falling prey to a couple of factors:
- misinformation from a source he trusted that told him what he wanted to hear (the result of confirmation bias, which we all fall prey to in varying degrees)
- the lack of knowledge in that particular area (without sex education, we don't have a good understanding of how bodies actually work)
- the propensity to talk with authority on stuff we don't know much about, but have been given a platform so we use it (which, once again, we all fall prey to...just watch your social media stream for a couple of minutes)
I'm not making any excuses for the comment. It was asinine. But there were more than a few leaps of logic that made people question how educated members and supporters of the Republican party are. Truth is, there are educated and uneducated members of both parties. And education doesn't always mean smarter either. A doctor may understand reproduction, but not necessarily budget balancing.
Either way, just because someone doesn't agree with you or thinks in a manner that opposes your views doesn't mean he or she is uneducated or idiotic. And dismissing someone's viewpoint in that manner is doing a disservice to both them and you.
LESSON #2: IT DEPENDS IS A REALLY GOOD ANSWER
In March of this year, I had the pleasure of listening to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu speak at an Inc. conference. He was a last-minute addition to the roster and I nearly used the time to make notes for my own presentation, but I'm glad I stuck around. He gave an impassioned talk on how rebuilding New Orleans was done by group effort: government, private companies and the people of New Orleans. He told us that it was only successful because ideology took a back seat to doing what is right.
The more I listen to the 'sides' the more I realize that Democrats and Republicans are right sometimes and wrong sometimes - depending on the situation. And I'm not talking about design by committee or consensus, either. I've seen how that can sometimes turn out first hand (and once again, I said sometimes because there are some situations where consensus actually works well). I'm referring to what Mayor Landrieu advocates: speaking with responsibility, not ideology. Privatizing can be a really great thing and it can be a really disastrous thing. Government intervention can be necessary at times and an impediment at other times. And sometimes a concerned citizen can just pick up a shovel and plant a tree and that's fine, too.
And listening has helped me let go of ideology and understand responsibility for ourselves, our country and our world.
LESSON #3: FACTS AREN'T REALLY
I've watched a Republican friend post a table to her Facebook wall to underscore a point, then shortly after, I saw the same table with a slightly different emphasis (or zoomed out a bit more or in a bit more) posted on a Democrat friend's wall to underscore his point. I should have taken screenshots when this happened (Facebook is notoriously bad at history...but aren't we all?), but it's happened more than once and each time I've been reminded how the facts can be altered to anyone's reality.
So yeah...about that arithmetic...
LESSON #4: SOMETHING REPEATED ENOUGH TIMES BECOMES FACT
When I was moving and had to use shipmycar.info ship my car, I was thinking about this a lot and this is the bit that makes me very sad. Remember, not everything you read on the web is truth. I've fallen prey to this, too. But I see lots of lies, defamation and conjecture travel through grapevines until they become irrefutable too many times now. It's how marketing works at the end of the day and politicians are VERY good at marketing. Buyer beware.
Oh...and as an adjunct to this sad lesson: remember that once you believe something, our good friends in the cognitive distortion department of our brains will amplify all of the data that supports our POV so that we validate those untruths even more. Beware. Your brain lies to you, too.
LESSON #5: THE RIGHT AREN'T GREEDY PIGS AND THE LEFT AREN'T COMMIES
There ARE bad people in the world, but they don't exist disproportionally on one side or the other. I know you think so and have all sorts of evidence to support it, but let me refer you back to Lessons 1-4. Everyone genuinely believes that their point of view is the best one for everyone. This is the hardest lesson of all.
These are lessons I'm still learning daily. Every single day, I fall prey to my own brain's desire to destroy all opposing evidence. But I'm getting more and more comfortable in my fence sitting position. My dad used to joke, "Stop! Stop! You're both wrong!" when my brother and I fought (and sometimes substituted the "wrong" for "right"). I'm finally understanding what he meant. Stop fighting. We all have the same goal. Maybe if we ALL listened to one another more (as Deb suggests), we could get there faster.