We All Need To Learn How To Stop Just Talking Past Each Other


One of the ugliest aspects of life the past couple of years has been the chasm between those on the left side of the political spectrum and the right. There have been stories of families that have broken apart, longstanding friendships gone and constant arguments.

At one point years ago, it was fashionable for those out of power to call themselves the “loyal opposition.” That has changed. Parties not in control seem to go out of their way to oppose. A politician who talks about trying to cooperate and compromise with opponents is called a “collaborator.” And, of course, people who would normally support the person now turn away, which makes it very difficult to get anything worthwhile really done. Any proposal for change now has to provide special benefits that helps the friends of whichever group is in power, who in turn provide special help to the politicians.

Casting blame is not easy, but I know where much of this comes from. Our media has done more to shatter wide spectrum collaboration than perhaps any other force. If I were trying to pick an actual single source, I would look to the old CNN program “Crossfire.” Every week night, there would be a liberal reporter and a conservative one, and they would stage a debate. That is good. How often do we really have debates on our news stations any more? Yes, there are fake ones. Fox will present some moderate liberals who never seem to get angry no matter what the conservatives say. MSNBC has spent years honing a group of anti-Trump Republicans to blast Republicans. But few real debates.

The problem with those debates was mainly that it brought up two sides to each question. That, of course, is more helpful than presenting only one. But why should there only be two? When it comes to abortion, there are advocates for “it’s a woman’s fight. Abortion at any time.” And on the other hand, we have the “it’s not the baby’s fault if mama was raped. That baby is sacred.” The choice of names for the groups made differences clear. It was not “pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion.” It was “pro-choice” and “pro-life.”

People talking in two different languages can seldom solve problems. And there was not much opportunity for anyone in the middle to speak. So both groups had their demands, and after 50 years, we still do not have consensus.

Does this hang on? Look at Ukraine. On the left, Democrats and some Republicans talk about providing large amounts of money to “protect democracy.” And Republicans and some Democrats talk about reports of corruption in Ukraine. Why are the two notions so opposed? Perhaps the idea of freedom and self-determination is worthy but there is corruption? Could that be? But neither group spends much time focusing on the dual possibility.

Checking MSNBC’s lead stories against the leads over at Fox is revealing. There are few topics that are identical. They each spend their time on favorite topics, often going into great depth. But they ignore the other group’s issues or dismiss them casually. Someone who watches only one source will have a skewed view of events.

Added to the mix is that we now have seen the rise of censorship. Recently, some “scientific verities” have been overturned. Masks may not have been as effective against COVID-19 as originally believed. Closed schools may not have done much to protect children in terms of disease but seems to have damaged many of them educationally. In other words, on a major health issue that should have had no real partisan split, there was no real discussion. People who argued one side of the topic were laughed at.

That is the problem with talking past each other. When we only hear one side of a story, the path ahead seems obvious. But we are not hearing of the pitfalls. Maybe the media on all sides should try a more balanced approach. Not giving up on who they are; simply listening, really listening, to those with different views and letting their viewers know there is more than one path.