I have been struggling for a long time with what I perceive as the polarization of America. It hurts to see us so dug into our convictions and so unwilling to listen to others’ points of view.
One might argue this time period is no worse than it was in the 1960’s during the Vietnam conflict. I know there are a handful of you who remember more than a few passing perceptions and news stories of that time. Those who have those vivid memories will often say, in many ways, that conflict was worse. Or how about Nixon and Watergate. This was also a very divisive time in our nation’s history. Go back in time even farther and you have the Civil War and the slavery issue. Talk about divisive–when we had a whole set of states seceding from the Union.
Perhaps the difference between Civil War times and now is the accessibility of information through dozens of broadcast media sources as well as explosion of social media outlets. In addition, I learned something else on Sunday of this week when I listened to a report on CBS Sunday Morning, so I did a bit more research and this is basically what I found:
The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was — in the Commission’s view — honest, equitable, and balanced. The FCC, which was believed to have been under pressure from then President Ronald Reagan, eliminated the Doctrine in 1987. The FCC formally removed the language that implemented the Doctrine, in August of 2011.
The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States.
Ah. Interesting. The year 1987 marks the birth of broadcast ideologies without a necessity to present opposing points of view. So, now I get how the likes of Rush Limbaugh on the right and Rachel Maddow on the left can get away with saying things that seem–to those of us in the relative middle–unbelievably outrageous. It also explains why polarization is alive and well in these times. Naturally we all have biases based on a variety of influences in our lives, and you don’t have to go too far to find someone in either national media or social media outlets who supports our particular viewpoint. And we all know that–as a general rule–we tend to be drawn to people like ourselves–who look like us, who sound like us, and who believe like us. It’s harder to be in relationship with people who have divergent points of view. It’s hard to listen to them and open our minds to the views they believe. It’s hard. Truly hard.
And, based on the Adult Stage Development numbers, a majority of Americans don’t open our minds to others’ perspectives (Skill Centric stage or earlier). In the old days (my God, I sound like my mother right now!), our elders were story tellers and through their stories they imparted the wisdom and perspectives that they had learned through life. Our elders’ wisdom often came as a result of situations they experienced where their viewpoint was not always the one, the only, and the correct way of looking at things. And, it usually came when these elders witnessed the youth in their lives experiencing a hurtful situation where the elder could use the story to help the youth learn wonderful life wisdom.
Finally, I’m not blaming everyone else for this phenomenon. I struggle with polarization myself. I struggle to listen to others who have differing points of view. I am having to constantly challenge myself, and I often fall short. But, I’m now one of those elders (eek!) Don’t I have an obligation to push myself to open my mind? Shouldn’t I learn differing ways to look at things? Shouldn’t I refrain from judgment? Shouldn’t I be patient with myself and others? And, if I’m listening attentively, can I expect–should I expect–the person who is speaking to me will turn around and extend the favor?
Hmmm. Some food for thought and further conversation.