Your Take: Polarized thinking
Recently, we published an op-ed about the connection between polarized thinking, depression and anxiety. Recognizing our thinking has become polarized is the first step to break the cycle – embracing that nuance and complexity are simply part of life instead of catastrophic and uncontrollable variables.
In conjunction with that essay, we asked our readers two questions:
1. How do you minimize your own polarized thinking?
2. What media do you consume and how does that increase or decrease your black and white thinking?
In dozens of responses, we heard from you on your own techniques for guarding against polarized thinking and your media consumption habits. Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Here’s a recap.
By debating others! I'm a founding member of my high-school's debate team, where I learned to listen to ideas, trying to find flaws in my opposition’s line of thinking while they do the same to me. My own opinions have been changed on multiple occasions due to debates, and advocating for resolutions that you oppose is a great way to broaden your way of thinking. ~Robert Hamblin
Most importantly, I try not to hang out among people or media sources that promote black and white thinking. In the last three months, I averaged less than four hours a month watching or listening to any news shows or viewing sports or other forms of electronic entertainment. I never let the radio or TV play in the background. ~Will Carter
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When I catch myself getting worked up with self-righteousness or making sweeping, negative statements about "them," I know I'm in dangerous territory. Then, I remind myself of past times when I've been misled by those on my own side who've cherry-picked the facts, used out-of-date information, etc. I aim to replace self-righteous anger with a vaguely uncomfortable feeling that I may not have the whole picture. ~Riley Hart
I read a variety of magazines. I find that The New Republic offers critiques of a wide spectrum of political stances, including an insightfulness that wish Democrats would read and heed for the party's (and nation's) own good. ~James Rodell
My biggest struggle is trying to hear what people who may disagree with me are thinking. It is so hard to be still and listen for the whole thought. And, truthfully, often I find the thought wrong or illogical or missing something. But it pays to listen. ~Kathleen Finderson
I have a sincere commitment to understand the other side, and more importantly, the other person with the opposite side. It’s described as focusing on the third thought. First thought is our emotional reaction to whatever the person said. The second thought is to explain, rationally, why I am right and you are wrong. The third thought is to really understand that other person's point and, even better, that other person (aka who they are, what they care about, how we are similar). I look for solutions, I look for common ground, I try to make the best argument for the side I disagree with, and I read articles to help me do that. I often do some multisided research specifically on whatever issue catches my attention. Doing a balanced search on AllSides helps me do that – it pulls left, center and right articles from across the web on whatever I search.
~John Gable (founder of AllSides)
I think the best method for managing polarized thinking is the 5/5/2 test. Passing the test requires some self-awareness and introspection, as you noted, and puts some tangible targets in place. To pass, a person must have:
- Five or more close friends who are on the opposite side of the aisle from them.
- Five or more personal political beliefs that are on the opposite side of their typical political preference.
- Two or more regular news sources that are on the opposite side of their typical political preference.
I recently realized my family and friends who have embraced the former president suddenly put me in an all-or-nothing bucket – if I didn't travel their road, I embraced the status quo. I was gobsmacked. I have been standing up to the status quo for over 50 years. I just think we form a more perfect union in a different way than they. So now, when I see myself feeling that all-or-nothing upset with others, I check myself. I listen differently. I speak to them, not a narrative. ~Jeanene Louden
I do not try to minimize my polarized thinking. I have consciously taken the side of keeping what democracy we still have in the United States and trying to make it work better for all the people of this country. I oppose reactionary conservatism, Christian conservatism, white nationalism and most of all the cult of Trumpism. I think human beings have the capacity for self-governance without a top-down authority to make them do what is right. ~Jack Noldon
I try to be open to looking at information from different ends of the spectrum. It does not eliminate polarized thinking but it decreases it. I have digital subscriptions to The New York Times, The Economist, The Epoch Times, The Telegraph. I read articles on the Deutsche Welle app and a news app called MxM for headlines, etc. I have a subscription to Die Weltwoche (Swiss) and listen to a 30-minute summary of the chief editor Roger Klöppel most mornings. I watch or listen to maybe 50 percent of War Room’s daily show, watch Tucker Carlson maybe four out of five days; record and watch two or three episodes of Greta van Susteren on Newsmax. I have a subscription to Victor Davis Hanson articles and podcasts (one of my favorites and I feel I learn a lot from him on real history). The newsletter from MoveOn.org because I want to know what goes on with the “other side.” So now you know why I get nothing done around here and why I’m never bored. ~Inge Schlegel
Media sources identified by our readers, alphabetically listed:
- AllSides.com (who also hosts a publicly sourced media bias chart here.)
- The Associated Press
- Bridge Alliance Daily Resource
- Broadcast news
- The Christian Science Monitor
- The Dispatch
- The Economist
- The Epoch Times
- The Federalist
- Fox News Channel
- The Fulcrum
- Le Monde
- Local news via papers and TV
- The Marginalian
- The Motley Fool
- National Review
- The New Republic
- The New York Post
- The New York Times
- Reason Magazine
- Sheryl Atkisson
- The Sun (monthly magazine)
- The Telegraph
- Wall Street Journal
- War Room
- The Washington Post
We sincerely thank everyone for sharing “your take” on polarized thinking, for reading and including The Fulcrum in your media diet.
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