As the Democratic and Republican primaries heated up, so did the political discussion. Two years later, a scroll through social media can make it seem like people are still fighting the flames with gas rather than water. And when someone identifies so strongly with one side and another person with the other, a middle ground can seem nonexistent.
“Bringing people together is not that different from getting Red Sox fans to root for the Yankees,” said Michael Macy, a professor in the department of sociology at Cornell University.
But sometimes, it’s smart for a Yankee fan to root for the Red Sox. For example, what if the Red Sox have the AL East won and are playing a team the Yankees are neck-and-neck with for a final Wild Card spot? Logically, it benefits the Yankees if the Red Sox win. By the same token, it can make sense for two people on the opposite sides of the political spectrum to find middle ground or at least have a two-way conversation. A team of experts weighed in on how to see the other side of the story.
Have a Social (Media) Conscious
Social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube use algorithms to prioritize the type of news and videos users see. Someone who constantly clicks on content from MSNBC’s Morning Joe and scrolls passed Fox and Friends on Facebook is going to see more stories from the former, a more left-leaning network. If Trump supporter searches “Trump immigration” on YouTube and watches his speech, the next video queued will likely have a similar viewpoint.
Diversify Your Political Palate
Algorithms and even fake news can make people feel like victims. Not so, said Richard Hornick, the director of the overseas partnership programs at the Center for News Literacy and a professor in the Stony Brook University School of Journalism. “It’s all about you. You control the narrative. You shouldn’t be a victim. Take control and it has positive effects.” Hornick suggested people who frequently watch Fox News watch MSNBC and vise versa to get an opposing take. Plug-ins like Escape Your Bubble show opposing political views on Facebook and Hornick often tells students to use Incognito to search on Chrome. “It doesn’t take into account your previous browsing history so you get a much different experience.”
“The most important thing you should do is when you see something and want to respond you should take a deep breath,” Hornick said. Next, think small. “Take the issue and break it down to parts,” said Benedict Beckeld, Ph.D, an author who holds a doctorate in Philosophy and the Classics. Beckeld added that sometimes people find they can agree on smaller parts of a larger issue, which can lead to dialogue and progress. For example, an Obamacare supporter and opposer may agree that people should not be excluded from health insurance for pre-existing conditions and that people under 26 should be allowed to stay on their parents’ plans.
Understand the Other Person
When debating, let the other person talk—and listen. “You can’t have a conversation with people simply by using your own set of facts,” Hornick said. “People aren’t crazy for thinking gun control is bad or Obamacare is bad.” Perhaps the constant news of violence makes a person feel he needs a gun or the current health care system is negatively impacting a small business owner’s bottom line. “If someone is against Obamacare, it’s not because he doesn’t want people to have health insurance, it’s because he thinks that’s not the most effective way,” Beckeld said. “There is a Republican tendency to think Democrats are stupid and Democrats think Republicans are evil or something like that. If you assume the other person loves fellow human beings then you can calm yourself. You just have different ways of getting to the same goal.”
Remember: Conflict Is Good
On issues we’re passionate about, it can be difficult to see why anyone would think any differently. But discourse and disagreements can actually be considered a good thing. “It’s human nature to always overreach and become tyrannical if there is no other opposition,” Beckeld said. “If one side becomes dominant, ultimately that other side—even though you support it—is going to overreach and lose principles.” The most dramatic when Germany, a highly-educated society, embraced Adolf Hitler.
Do Something Else With Them
Sometimes, a middle ground may have nothing to do with politics. Macy recommended getting to know people outside of their political beliefs, such as a neighbor or the co-worker two offices down. “[If] you have a personal connection with them based on something you have in common then…you will be more open to hearing their point of view on politics,” Macy said.
Are colleges seeking to find a middle ground or are they too liberal? Check back next week for an in-depth look in feature “School of Thought.”