Building Common Ground Between Bubbles – Part 3

I want to add several things to my post about finding common ground between “bubbles.”

In 2008, then-Senator Obama gave his “More Perfect Union” speech in the wake of the Jeremiah Wright controversy.  Reverend Wright had been Senator Obama’s pastor and made some inflammatory statements that caused a major controversy for Obama’s presidential campaign.  In this speech, Senator Obama provided a sympathetic account of perspectives of both blacks and whites in the US.  While sympathetically explaining Reverend Wright’s thinking generally and how it related to African Americans’ struggles in our history, he was also critical of parts of Wright’s approach.  Balancing this discussion, he sympathetically described whites’ views, also noting some criticisms, which he illustrated by referring to his white grandmother, who he loved dearly, but who sometimes had used racial stereotypes that made him cringe.

I think that the approach and tone of this speech is a good model for trying to build common ground.  Senator Obama sought to understand perspectives of blacks and whites in the US, and judge them sympathetically without suggesting that one was better than the other.

Of course, some people are hateful and take actions and make statements intended to harm others or that are indifferent to the effects on others.  Sometimes people make statements that cause pain due to lack of understanding and insensitivity rather than intent.  Obviously, intent is a critical element in making judgments about people’s actions and statements.

One can take several lessons from Senator Obama’s speech.  People should first try to understand others, especially those with whom we disagree – perhaps disagreeing quite strongly.  After serious effort to understand others, we should judge.  All ideas are not equally valid or beneficial (or harmful).  So being non-judgmental isn’t a good solution.  When we judge others and their ideas, we should be as sympathetic as appropriate, considering their intentions, among other things.

We should also have some caution and humility recognizing our own biases, cognitive and otherwise.  In particular, we should recognize that we are subject to the bias of reactive devaluation – judging favorably ideas of people we like and judging unfavorably ideas from those we don’t like.

These problems are exacerbated by the news and social media.  By definition, the news media highlight things that are unusual and often shocking or else they usually wouldn’t be considered “newsworthy.”  These tendencies are aggravated by presenting things out of context to make the stories punchier.  Similarly, social media sometimes recklessly escalate conflict by circulating inflammatory and false stories.  Indeed, Oxford Dictionary just named “post-truth” to be the word of the year, reflecting the belief that truth is mostly irrelevant.  (Here’s a story about an app designed to counter fake news.)

All of this is to suggest that people be cautious about what information they believe but we should not give up our fundamental values and beliefs.  I do not suggest that Clinton supporters should suddenly adopt the Trump agenda or vice versa.  People should not agree just for the sake of agreeing.  Rather, we should constructively engage in conflict, as WFOI Bernie Mayer suggests in his book, Staying with Conflict.

Tiara, I’m glad that you found my prior post to be helpful.  These are difficult times, especially for people who were offended by statements made by President-elect Trump during the campaign and who are scared about how his election will change their lives.  Bernie Mayer himself described how hard this can be.

Obviously, the ideas in my posts aren’t comprehensive solutions.  But hopefully they will give you some hope, clarity, and determination about how you want to act.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the More Perfect Union speech (or hasn’t seen it lately), I encourage you to watch this Youtube video, which I found very inspiring and even more timely these days.

I still don’t know what would help move us forward, but hopefully these ideas would help.

4 thoughts on “Building Common Ground Between Bubbles – Part 3”

  1. The main point is commonly stressed in all facets of dispute resolution, find common ground and understanding. I’ve found this to be the biggest challenge when conducting mediations; often the parties have not had detailed conversations where each can explain themselves and the other party can actively listen to what is being said. This election cycle has shown these same types of problems when individuals discuss the candidates and outcome of the election. Unfortunately, social media seems to exasterbate this problem rather than provide a forum where people can hear other ideas and respond without being attacked. The article mentions false stories being spread across social media, however, the problem goes deeper than just the story. Taking five minutes to read through comments shows a tendency for people of both parties to conform to group think and a pack-type-attack mentality on those who are outside their group or “bubble”. This only seems to dig people in deeper and further push people into bubbles of people who think along the same lines. Social media could be a great opportunity to have people of all different values and beliefs to come together and discuss the issue, but rather we end up with a group of “keyboard warriors” who find it more important to attack the other person because the other person is an “idiot” for being a liberal or conservative.

    The article and the comments above also note the types of news sources available and what each bubble of people follow. Social media news feed seem to be the worst. It provides a ten second shocking video as you scroll through the Facebook feed. It needs to catch your attention so it will often display a video clip that shows the worst of the other side. This again fails to provide any type of dialog. There are no statistics to back up claims. No contrary point of view and why one is better than the other. It’s all negative about one person or one party. It would be interesting if these news sources switched tactics and posted only videos pumping up their own. What if all news was positive? Would this create less group think and make people more inclined to talk with others who differ from them? I would like to think so, but in a day and age of attack ads, its wishful thinking.

  2. Perhaps we should consider that metadata collected on all social media users is used by media sites to predetermine you inclination to information you receive. As such your viewpoint is validated and recirculated to the exclusion of all other viewpoints resulting in a strong resistance to new or different thoughts. Social media is not social at all. In the end we may find that the best medium is to return to face-to-face forums.

  3. This approach of finding common ground is an essential one to any mediation, or dispute resolution that could occur. But I feel that modern times have exacerbated the means by which parties traditionally found common ground throughout history. The rise of technology and social media has allowed individuals to selectively listen to opinions that align with their particular viewpoints, and remove those that conflict. While not intentional in all cases, the removal of differing opinions helps create the bubble that you speak of. But should individuals like, follow, or subscribe to news and media sources which they fundamentally differ with?

    I believe the answer to be yes, but it commonly isn’t. This could be a minor step that you as an individual can take in order to shrink your bubble and begin understanding others. Additionally, by identifying those news or media sources which you routinely check, follow, or subscribe to I believe that individuals could better understand if they have bias, and work towards finding common ground.

  4. Good post. I think it’s important to understand that while being overly judgmental is not a good idea in any situation, to not be judgmental at all can be just as dangerous. For example, while we generally respect other people’s opinions, we run into opinions every now and then where there is clearly malice and hatred present. While having these opinions isn’t illegal (nor should it be), you never know what those people might be capable of. That being said, you shouldn’t lash out or call someone bad or evil because their opinions are different from yours. On the other hand, if you don’t agree with someone’s opinion, you should be able to express it without being harassed or attacked. It’s also very important to distinguish between what’s true and what isn’t because we live in an age where “fake news” has become widespread on social media and some people take it as truth. I like the common ground idea expressed in this post because there should be a way to criticize and rebuff dangerous or hateful opinions and ideas without violating people’s individual rights.

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