Where Do We Go From Here?
According to Wikipedia, the United States is the world’s largest producer of corn and soybeans. Although it doesn’t say, I am beginning to believe that we also lead the world in producing outrage. I don’t mean that we make more people in the world angry than anyone else, which may be possible, but that the average American produces more outrage than anyone else. Getting outraged is what we do. It’s the new national pastime, which is fine because baseball is so horribly dull anyway. What I wonder, though, is how much more polarized and outraged our society may become. Will it get better, or will it only get worse?
We get outraged quickly. We then become loud and boisterous, trying to use volume and histrionics to batter anyone who doesn’t agree with our viewpoint into submission. Those who disagree with the viewpoint, whether mildly or vehemently, is driven away by the ridiculous over-the-top arguments and viewpoints. Those who agree listen eagerly, getting their own viewpoints and worldviews fed back to them, reinforcing and solidifying their position. The echo chamber beats on and on.
The conservative wakes up and turns on Fox News. She listens to Rush Limbaugh on her car ride to work. She talks to like-minded people at work at how Obama is running the country into the ground. She reads whatever right-wing blogs and online newspapers appeal to her. The only thing she hears about the left and their views is filtered by her sources of information and their biases. Sound bites replace speeches and context is lost. Worldviews are confirmed. Fulfilled that her beliefs are absolutely correct, she drifts off to sleep to begin the next day in precisely the same way.
The liberal wakes up and switches on MSNBC. He listens to, well, whatever left-wing radio shows there are – NPR? He talks to like-minded people at work about how corporate greed is ruining the country and environment. He reads his favorite left-wing blogs and online newspapers and watches Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. The only thing he hears about the right and their beliefs is filtered by his sources and their biases. He goes to bed just as she did, sure to replicate the same behavior tomorrow.
Neither side attempts dialogue or exchange of perspective. Do we practice this because this is what we see Bill O’Riley and Keith Olbermann do, or are they just giving us exactly what we want? I’m afraid that they do it because each of us, deep down, wants our viewpoint to win. We want that pansy liberal stammering and flustered while good ole Bill hammers them down. We want to smirk along with Keith as the ham-brained conservative gives voice to some preposterous notion. We don’t want our hosts to frown thoughtfully and say, “I see your point” or “I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Politics is our new (old) sport, and like football and MMA, we want it bloody, violent, and clearly defined as to who won and who had to slink off, battered and humiliated. We want to be outraged at the health care opponents. We want to be outraged at the health care supporters. I just don’t know why.
Politics of course isn’t the only thing we love to be outraged about. We are outraged that the Eagles signed Michael Vick. We are outraged at the ridiculous reaction to the Vick signing. We are outraged that Donte Stallworth spent less time in jail than Vick. We are outraged that people spend so much time talking about sports. We are outraged that some jerk-off just cut us off on the road. We are an outraged nation. We like it that way. Our opponents are Nazis and zealots, fanatics and the insane. It is us, and it is them.
I read something the other day where a person wrote that she never really met or talked to anyone whose opinions were radically different from hers, since the country is basically split into camps that don’t interact. I find it ironic that we call this the Information Age, where we have so much available to us at the tips of our fingers, when we use all that access to merely reinforce what we already know and believe. We don’t interact with people of opposing beliefs because we don’t have to. We have entire communities and television channels devoted to listening to each other say the exact same thing over and over so they can all agree vehemently.
I’m guilty of it too. I don’t want to be. I am blessed to be part of a big community of friends from all walks of life and perspectives. I have access to people whose beliefs I find repugnant. I never want to dismiss anything that they say out of hand, but it’s hard. But, damnit, I’m going to keep trying. I am thankful to all of you, because what I believe is wrong. What you believe is wrong, too, but by hearing your views I can gain more understanding, and maybe someday I can be less wrong. We’re all wrong, every one of us, because what is right changes with every nuance, every shift in background or circumstance. None of us is right. Nothing is black and white.
Every day, I want something to challenge my beliefs. I want to react thoughtfully and soberly, allowing myself to digest the new information instead of lashing out blindly or dismissing everything out of hand. I want to do this. It’s not easy and I don’t always succeed. But I have had it proven to me over and over again that my perspective isn’t the True and Correct One. So I’m trying. The next time I see you, I look forward to learning your perspective. I may not agree, but I will try to listen. I will try to allow you to speak without half-listening and already formulating my response. I will try to thank you for sharing with me. I will mull over what you said over the next few hours or days. I may not change my beliefs, but I might. I have before. I will again.
Will our society grow more tolerant, or more outraged? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m just blowing my perception of outrage out of proportion. I only know that I am going to try, today, tomorrow, and every day, to listen, withhold judgment, and consider what other people think. I will outrage people and they will call me a flip-flopper who isn’t firm in their beliefs. They might be right. I’ll have to think that one over.