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?

Why Are We So Antagonistic?

In America, tensions are running high. Neighbors, family members, even communities are clashing. Why are we so antagonistic toward each other?

There is no shortage of ways to separate people. For example, the political divide is larger than it has been in a generation. Economic inequality is at record levels. Rural and urban areas are at odds with each other.

Why is there so much tension?

It’s true that thanks to the Internet, people are able to seek out ideas similar to their own. Social media can act as an echo chamber, and algorithms can limit exposure to competing ideas.

Similarly, cable news has spawned a news channel for every political outlook. Talking heads with an agenda help shape public opinion.

There is also what is known as “self-selection”. When deciding where to live, people will often choose a neighborhood filled with people who look like them, vote like them, and pray like them.

Gerrymandering, or the political act of grouping conservative or liberal voters in a district has led to candidates that are more ideologically extreme.

There also seems to be just a general lack of civility. People arguing are quick to insult, or to simply disengage altogether.

What is the cause of our polarized environment? Is it one of these explanations, or something else entirely? Why are we so antagonistic?

Related questions: How can we encourage debate? How do you know who to trust? Angry or afraid? What makes a community?

What Questions Should We Be Asking?

Due to a global pandemic, flaws in our society have been magnified. Economic inequality, racial injustice, and divisive politics are all huge problems. In order to address these issues, what questions should we be asking, as a society?

The Intellectual Roundtable blog is all about questions. Since starting in the spring of 2017, we have presented 373 questions (and counting!), some thought-provoking, some divisive, some silly.

But sometimes, even we don’t know what questions need to be asked. To make a better community for everyone, what questions should we be asking?

If we want to ease tensions between people with different opinions, what questions should we be asking?

For our blog to appeal to more people, or generate more comments and more interaction between readers, what questions should we be asking?

As we hope to build a more just society, particularly for those being treated unjustly, what questions should we be asking?

To leave behind a healthy, stable world for our children and their children’s children, what questions should we be asking?

Do you have an opinion? In short, what should we be asking?

Related questions: What is your favorite Intellectual Roundtable question? How are we doing? Curiosity or certainty? What makes you curious?

Who Hears Your Voice?

There is a lot of unrest in America — and indeed, throughout the world — and much of it seems to stem from people feeling that their voice is not being heard.

The most recent example of this is the protests springing up around the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death has sparked protests against police brutality of black men, and African-American communities are demanding to be heard.

This is hardly the only example, however.

Recently, there were anti-lockdown protests in a number of cities. Many of those protesters also complained about not being heard by state or local officials.

Also, women have been more and more frustrated that their voices are not included when decisions are made about women’s health. Many decision-making groups are made up of mostly or all men. As a result, the female voice is absent.

Many rural residents feel that financial and regulatory decisions are increasingly made in cities, for cities. The interests, needs, and wants of rural constituents, they feel, are not included.

All of these examples have led to political and social unrest. People who feel they are unheard grow more frustrated. As a result, they become more insistent that leaders listen to them. That can take the form of protests, boycotts, intimidation, threats, or violence.

Do you share these feelings of voicelessness? In your life, who hears your voice? Your city, state, or federal governmental representative? Your friends and family? What about your boss, or your union representative? How about a religious leader?

Being heard, or at least the feeling of being heard, can be extremely powerful. Do you receive that in your life? Where?

Related questions: Whose voice do you hear? What is your voice? What makes a community? How can we encourage debate?