This holiday season, millions of people will see their families and end up no longer debating politics on social media with strangers, but with their loved ones instead. These debates are often focused on scoring points, or trying to get the other to believe their point of view without considering why the other person believes what they do. The image above humorously calls out the frustration we all share when debating these issues, and not seeing any change in others’ opinions, even when we seem so obviously right, and they so obviously wrong. Unfortunately, these disagreements can cause frustration, loss of respect or affinity for family and friends, and hurt feelings that drive a wedge between the important relationships in our lives. This also affects our political world, where these disagreements can lead to political gridlock, vigilanteism, and even breakdown of societal stability. So what can we do?
Try to Understand Them, Not Just Tell Them Why You’re Right
The first step in understanding someone’s argument is understanding why they believe what they do, and putting yourself in their shoes (or in this case, echo chamber). With today’s online news and social media, people are usually shown more of what they click on so that sites can collect more money from advertisers, and end up in “echo chambers” with connections who see generally the same information they do. This validates their worldview and opinions, even if they may sound absolutely crazy to you. The chart below shows that as people are more consistent in their beliefs, they find it important to be around others who share their views, and that their close friends share these views as well.
One major problem is that most of us are in echo chambers ourselves, surrounded by people who share our beliefs, and content that reinforces our views and opinions. This makes the world around us seem to be sane, while people on the “other side” seem to be completely out of touch with reality. Of course, they think the same thing about you and the news stories you site are probably just as alien to them as theirs are to you. If any of this sounds familiar, you might be living in an echo chamber yourself.
Empathy: How to Salvage Relationships, and Make More Convincing Arguments
This holiday season, we recommend empathy. This means understanding how your loved ones got to the opinions they have, and how they came to see the world the way they do. Not only will this help you have more respectful and level-headed conversations, it will help you see what the root needs or beliefs are that the person has that led them down their ideological path. Empathy, and researching their world, will also help you see the bread crumb trail that leads to the supporting arguments and narratives that shaped their opinions. With this knowledge, you are less likely to be caught off-guard, so you can make rational and thoughtful arguments that address the ideas that you are likely to hear, and respond with arguments that acknowledge them, and address them so that the narratives become clear, false or misleading evidence comes to light, and opinions are re-examined.
Maybe You’re Right. But If the Other Person Doesn’t Feel Respected, It Won’t Matter.
Maybe you really are right. Maybe you know the facts and have checked them yourself. Maybe your debate companion is ignorant of these facts and has come to some terrible conclusions because of exposure to disinformation or weak understanding of logical argument or science. This will not matter much to them unless they feel respected, listened to, and humanized. More than anything, providing these things will lower the emotional barriers that block people from listening to you, having an open mind, or being willing to reconsider their opinions. By listening to them, asking thoughtful questions, and helping them to see the path that led them to their opinion, you can help them engage in a reasonable, meaningful conversation.
Find the Commonality in the Underlying Goals
Researching opinions opposite to your own can also help you see where there is commonality. People disagree about gun control, but not that murders should decrease. Heated debates often occur about taxes, but few people disagree about using budget effectively. Climate change raises tempers, but we can all agree on wanting air and water quality that doesn’t cause cancer or asthma in children.
In this commonality can come understanding, and reasonable debate that helps us move forward, instead of dive further into division, dehumanization of each other, and the potential for disagreement to turn to conflict. Because a house divided against itself cannot stand, and we all want our collective house to stand tall and proud for many years to come.
Help Them See the Other Side of the Spectrum
Spectrum Report was created to give us the tools we need to better understand the news in this new world, and more importantly, to understand each other better so that we might preserve democracy and liberty for generations to come. How do we do this? By presenting the news in new ways, and providing new tools that empower the reader to see through the narratives and better understand their world and the people they share it with.
Narratives (n): An explanation or interpretation of events in accordance with a particular theory, ideology, or point of view.
News Spectrum: Spectrum Report presents news from across a range of liberal and conservative news outlets, so you can see how readers are seeing their world reported on. Over time readers will notice patterns, or narratives that emerge from different outlets, that influence the thinking of readers, and may deliver indirect messages about public figures, groups of people, policies, countries, cultures, and current events. We invite you to engage with this spectrum and comment on what patterns or narratives you see.
Topic Spectrum Search: Want to see how different outlets on the left and right report on different topics? A quick Spectrum Search will show you articles from different outlets, so you can see the narratives emerge and understand how people with different worldviews are seeing the world around them. In addition, you’ll see analysis of these topics, along with fact-check results of statements, assertions, and articles from around the web, as analyzed by Snopes and Politifact.
Word, Topic, and Article Analysis: Words are powerful. Spectrum Report uses sentiment analysis to provide the mix of emotional tones of an article, or series of articles in the Spectrum Search. This can provide a general feel for what emotions the article or topic is meant to convey, from joy to disgust and anger. This is important for readers to better understand how the news is influencing their emotional reactions to certain topics. You’ll also find word clouds, which show you which words are being used most often in the article or series of articles. This can help you see how certain topics are being linked and conceptual connections are being drawn by the outlet’s reporters.
Fact-Checking: Don’t believe everything you read. In a world full of content, opinions, and unfiltered assertions, it’s important to know not only what news is fake news, but what statements are false, and where they came from. Spectrum Report uses Snopes and Politifact, a Pulitzer-Prize Winning website for fact checking the information that is presented in the public sphere.
Outlet Reports: Spectrum Report also gives you the option to view analysis on the historical articles pushed out to the Internet. You can view fact-checking files for the outlet, and see what statements made on or by that outlet have been true or false so you know what to believe.
Outlet Guessing Game: Games have been shown to help people engage when learning a new topic, but also they’re a ton of fun! So we created “Guess Whose Headline” – a game that gives you a chance to refine your narrative-spotting prowess and share with your friends to see who gets the bragging rights. Enjoy responsibly and share.
We hope that you find these tools useful as you seek to understand your world, your own views, and the views of others. Please comment below or on pages that bring you a new insight. As always, please communicate freely but respectfully. The purpose of Spectrum Report is not to incite more division, but to help us communicate better and get out of our echo chambers to improve our world together.
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