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Friday
Dec082017

ECHO CHAMBER OR COMMUNITY?

 

If you're reading this, it's probably because you expect to agree with me.  

It's what almost all of us do today--only read the ads, blogs, social media posts, and articles we agree with. We've turned our backs on all the work done by those who wrote the U.S. Constitution to create a country based on institutions that empower people who don't agree to talk with each other. https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript. Checks and balances, for example.  A House and a Senate.  Institutions and rules for discussion and debate.

It's called the "echo chamber syndrome."  We only listen or speak inside closed chambers that echo our current beliefs and opinions.  "Trump is finally making America great again!"  "Trump is an immoral idiot!" https://news.sky.com/story/social-media-echo-chamber-causing-political-tunnel-vision-study-finds-10755219

Politicians and comedians aren't the only ones communicating this way.  One of today's letters to the editor in my local newspaper is written by a friend of mine.  Here's part of what he wrote:  "Whatever happened to all that concern about deficits?  Oh, yeah, I get it.  That's only when Democrats are in charge--particularly if said Democrats are not white.  Once they're in power, forget it."

This is an example of polarized communication. It's what you hear in an echo chamber.  It's what you hear in most of today's public discourse.  The really bad thing about it is that it's not just polarized.  It's polarizing

When you express yourself this way, you not only show that you're a one-sided thinker.  You also encourage whoever reads what you write to be similarly one-sided.  You opt out of what the founders of our country valued when they created a government with checks and balances, a House and a Senate, and rules for discussion and debate.  It's also what the founders of every religion encouraged--community, gatherings where believers interact with each other about beliefs and actions.  

We seem to believe we know better than the wise people who created both our government and our religion. We're voting every day with our voices, or social media posts, our writing, and our speaking for polarization.

Partly to keep from doing what I'm urging you not to do, I want to acknowledge that polarized communication is sometimes helpful.  In court, for example.  Our system assumes that when two opposing arguments clash in the presence of a judge or jury, what comes out of the clash will be as close to justice as we can get.  But notice that in this case, polarization is a means to an end.  Clash often results in something between each extreme--"She's guilty, but of a lesser charge."  "He should pay, but not that much."  

As a general public and private practice, though, polarized (and polarizing) communication hurts us.  The one-sided arguments we hear and write reduce the quality of our critical thinking (There are always at least two sides to every story.).  The extreme claims divide us from each other--friends from friends, colleagues from colleagues, family members from each other.  The heat creates stress, and stress shortens lives.  When we make extreme claims, we frequently say things that, under less heated conditions, we would never say.  So we embarrass ourselves.

Change starts at home.  With me, and with you.  Do keep writing, posting, and talking about things that matter--policies, helpful and hurtful actions, legislation.  Don't write, post, or talk in polarized and polarizing ways.  Do acknowledge the limits on your own claims.  Do highlight the important points made by those you agree with.  

Make your best case.  And make it in ways that encourage responses, rather than cutting them off.  Encourage conversation, discussion, joint decision-making.  

People inside an echo chamber look and sound pretty silly.  Don't go there.