A Mea Culpa, And Seven Steps For Less Belligerence and More Productive Conversations

If you're like me, you're sick of the fighting back and forth on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere in the media. Everyone is yelling and nobody is listening. The slightest misconstrued comment leads to a lashing from people you may or may not know in the real world, including people you may have thought were your friends.

It's sad and disgusting and it doesn't have to be this way.

I helped create this problem. A little over 10 years ago, I hosted a political talk-radio show and, like a whole lot of others who have done the same thing, considered it a goal to burn up the phone lines. That often meant riling up the masses one way or the other, either with me or against me, but often at the expense of civility.

This isn't to say that none of that work, just like the political commentary of today, was without merit, or unnecessary, or unproductive. But a lot of it was. It was all a part of the schtick of being a political junkie who relished the debate, and it didn't stop when I left the radio. I've certainly done my fair share since then of "stirring the pot," media-business-speak for "being an ass."   

It's a shame, and I'm sorry, and I want to find a way to help it get better. We have at our disposal communication tools that people 20 years ago would find amazing. Anyone with an Internet connection has the power to influence. Anyone with an Internet connection has the power to connect across the globe.

And yet we squander this great tool with the discourse we have today.

In the weeks since the election, I've had time to try to digest what's wrong, both with our information consumption and with our interactions with others. Some say America hasn't been this divided since the Civil War. Below are seven things we should all strive to do better if we want to change the course we’re on and have more productive conversations.

1) We have to be more purposeful in our news consumption. That means slowing down and giving ourselves time to not simply read a headline, but time to digest the story and it's broader implications on society. So much of what we do today is react to a stream of information that we do not control. Professionals write headlines designed to induce emotion and get us to click or share links. Algorithms decide what to place in our social media feeds with the purpose of doing the same thing. Political hacks plant stories designed to get us to react in favor of their agenda or in opposition to their opponents. Stop giving them that control. Formulate your own trusted sources of news (preferably those that most people can find trustworthy) and stop relying on the social media feed.

2) Stop idolizing like minded-thinkers and demonizing non like-minded thinkers. You are an individual, and as an individual, you know you are not like everyone in your age demographic, racial demographic, religious demographic, or political affiliation. Neither are others. We owe it to ourselves and to others to overcome the desire to be tribal. The only people that benefit from tribalism are the people trying to form tribes and get power from them. There's always a selfish motive to tribalism. It's built into our DNA to be tribal, but part of building a better society is overcoming our worst instincts.

3) Promote your values without subscribing negative values towards others. What do you stand for? Why? Let others speak for themselves and explain their motivations.

4) Be humble. There's so much freedom that comes when you recognize you don't know everything and don't have to. Nobody has a monopoly on knowledge. Everyone has room to learn and grow. It's part of what makes life exciting.

5) Engage with others. Have dialogue. Seek to understand others, their points of view, and their motivations. Have empathy. It doesn't mean you have to agree with a position, or condone a behavior. Just seek to understand.

6) Be a seeker and promoter of truth. Everyone sees the world through a lens, and everyone has an agenda. Make it your duty to cut through the noise and determine the truth of the situation, even if it challenges preconceived notions you may have. If you're not seeking and promoting truth, but only reinforcement for your own agenda, you're simply trapping yourself within your own ideology and adding to the noise.  Seek and promote truth and others will respect you for it.

7) Don't respond to everything. This speaks directly to your credibility. How many people discount Donald Trump as an effective leader simply because he couldn't let any slight during the campaign go? How many discounted the credibility of his opponents when they couldn't let anything Trump said go? When everything is an outrage or cause for concern, nothing is. Choose your battles wisely, and think of how much less stress you'll have as a result of not constantly allowing yourself to get caught up in emotional moments.

I'm not perfect. I've failed at these things more times than I can count and will fail again in the future. But dammit, I'm going to try, and I hope you do, too. Because change starts at home, and there's got to be a better way to talk to each other than the way we've been doing it.

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