Polarization of Politics

Let’s play a little game.

As you read the following statements, pay close attention to your reactions.

Alright, understand the rules? Let’s go.

– – – – –

Trans men and women should be able to use the bathroom of their gender identity.

Climate change isn’t real. It’s a Chinese hoax to bankrupt America. Humans have had no substantial impact on climate change or global warming.

Black Lives Matter is a racist, violent movement. #alllivesmatter

Immigrants take jobs from Americans.  

Immigrants help our country. The government should simplify the path to citizenship.

The federal government will go too far in controlling guns rights.

Access to healthcare is a human right.

– – – – –

Alright, how do you feel?

Did your blood pressure spike? Did you roll your eyes? Did you nod in agreement?

According to The Wall Street Journal, Americans are increasingly polarized, which means we’re getting large groups of people on completely opposite ideological spectrums with very few people in the middle. Of course, this polarization makes it incredibly hard to cooperate, leading to the dreaded gridlock and inefficiency.

In Congress, extreme gridlock and inefficiency obviously presents huge problems for smooth governance and creates partisan resentment. In our personal lives, it’s equally damaging.

The term “echo chamber” has become somewhat of a buzzword, especially following the 2016 elections. Echo chambers and polarization are inherently related, both causing the other. In echo chambers, we typically hear only one side of an issue, latching on to evidence that supports our viewpoint, which leads to polarization of opinions. In turn, our strong social and political opinions affect personal choices, such as our choice of friends, spouses, and jobs. (There’s a reason I’m not working for the Koch brothers.)

It’s natural to surround yourself with like-minded people who hold similar morals and beliefs, but doing so begs a question: when was the last time you had a meaningful conversation (not an argument in the comment section of a Facebook post) with someone of opposing political or social beliefs?

If you’re anything like me, it’s been a while.

As a progressive BYU graduate, who grew up Davis County, Utah, it should be pretty easy for me to find and talk to someone with differing beliefs.

It is easy. But, it’s far easier (and more comfortable) to surround myself with like-minded individuals.

Unfortunately, these self-constructed echo chambers create barriers to cooperation and unity. Separating yourself from opposing sides immediately creates a sense of animosity and competition; politics become a game of us vs. them. It becomes easier to attach labels and stereotypes to the opposing side, leading to lack of respect and mutual understanding.

How many of us, complaining about politics, have started a conversation by saying, “I do not understand how anyone can believe that” or “I can’t understand how someone could support that.”

Yet, we need to be able to understand. We need to realize that we have to work together, and working together will be so much easier if we actually try to understand each other instead of putting ourselves on some political high ground.

One of my most rewarding political experiences was a discussion I had with some girls at BYU following the inauguration of Trump. We were discussing the topic of abortion, with each girl having very different views. When I started talking, I really couldn’t understand how some girls could hold a certain opinion. After talking, though, I was able to better understand their viewpoint. Do I agree with them? Nope. But, I was able to understand their concerns, and we even found some common ground. While none of us compromised our values, we did better understand each other’s justification for their opinions and were more willing to discuss solutions.

We can all work together to fix this problem of polarization. By putting yourself in new situations and hearing opinions that differ from your own, you can better understand different backgrounds and viewpoints. While we might not be able to actively change legislation, we can make a difference in our communities by actively changing our polarizing habits.

I hope you’ll join me in seeking out opportunities to head differing opinions. On social media, follow politicians from both political parties. Read from a broad swatch of news sources. Have a conversation with that neighbor or coworker who holds different political beliefs. Seeking out these opportunities to hear differing opinions will result in greater civility and understanding, creating a more cooperative political atmosphere.

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