What Voices Are You Listening To?

The political divide in this country is at an extreme. There are many reasons for this, for example gerrymandering, self-selection, and social media. But one of the primary reasons has to do with the fact that the voices that we hear on a day-to-day basis are very similar to our own.

If you happen to have an opinion on some topic, and you hear that same opinion echoed back at you from your TV set, from your Twitter feed, or from discussions with your friends, that opinion is reinforced.

Conversely, if you are often confronted with opinions that differ from your own, it may cause you to reevaluate your stance, or at least to do some research to back up your viewpoint.

Listening to others can also make you a more empathic person. By hearing what someone else has experienced, or what they are afraid of, or excited about, you learn to put yourself in another’s shoes.

A different religion, political party, skin color, age, socioeconomic status — all people have stories to tell that can help define our commonalities as human beings. A willingness to consider other sides can also help to smooth over disagreements.

Sometimes it can be difficult to recruit different voices to your own social circle. It’s relatively easy to find like-minded people among your friends, family, job, and hobbies. Meeting and forming social bonds with someone different from you is not easy.

Do you have friends that don’t look, pray, or love like you? Do you read books written from viewpoints other than your own? Or watch movies or TV shows with leads that aren’t like you? What voices are you listening to?

Related questions: Who hears your voice? How can we become better listeners? What do we have in common? Why are we so antagonistic?

2 thoughts on “What Voices Are You Listening To?”

  1. I like hearing other opinions, and especially like having discussions with people who are open-minded and thoughtful. I am finding it more difficult to watch national TV news though.

  2. I think I do a pretty good job of seeking out people who think differently than I do. I spend a fair amount of time reading books, watching TV and movies, and talking to people with experiences that don’t necessarily mirror my own. Of course, I could do better (because honestly, you can *always* do better).

    I do a much better job with this in regards to gender (I identify as male) than any other difference. For example, I just finished a book entitled ‘The Future is Female’ edited by Lisa Yaszek, an anthology of science fiction stories written by women from the 1930s through the 1960s. I routinely watch TV shows with female lead characters, like ‘Orphan Black’, ‘Gilmore Girls’, or ‘Big Little Lies’. Many of my closest friends are women, and I try to keep in touch with them regularly. I’m not quite as good about hearing voices of LGBTQ people, although I do have some friends who are gay or lesbian, and I try to watch shows depicting other experiences, like Transparent, or read authors like Alison Bechdel.

    Politically, I also try to engage with different opinions. I tend to be rather liberal, although it is important to me that conservative opinions are not simply dismissed. Sometimes that takes the form of reading conservative articles online, or watching videos from conservative media outlets. Sometimes I talk politics with conservative family members, which I know is a no-no for some people, who prefer family tranquility over frank, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations. At any rate, I try to always respect the experiences and views of whoever I am talking to, even if I disagree with them. I try to remind myself that they came to their ideas honestly, as did I.

    One area where I need to do better is race. I’m white, as is my wife and as are most of my friends, as well as the community where I live. I do have some minority friends, but not as many as I would like, and we rarely, if ever, talk about racial issues. Lately, my wife and I have been watching some movies about race — we just watched the movie ‘Just Mercy’ (my wife had just finished reading the book, a memoir by founder of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson), as well as the Netflix documentary ’13th’. I also try to see popular movies with minority leads, like ‘BlacKKKlansman’, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ or ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.

    When it comes to faith, I’m not very religious although many in my family are. When I was younger, I had many more discussions about religion and it’s role in modern life than I do now. I tend to know more about Christianity than other religions, although I have had conversations about matters of faith with people who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist.

    Overall, I think I lead a fairly diverse life. In my conversations, I’m naturally very inquisitive (not surprising coming from someone with a blog devoted to asking questions) and I am fascinated by people with experiences that are new to me. I try to keep an open mind.

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