Can we talk?
Last week, on one of my many visits to the airport I noticed a small book laying in the duty-free shop. The title of this small book, although written in Dutch, translates simply as ‘’Can we talk?’’. It was written by the Dutch author Joris Luyendijk and the topic was modern polarization. Joris previously wrote books on his experiences living in Egypt among the natives for a year, and on the culture of the banks in the City leading up to the crash of 2008.
The primary message of the book was that we live in separated societies regarding our opinions and worldviews. We read websites that share our opinion. The pages we like on Facebook agree with our worldview. The people we follow on Twitter say the same things we say. And those that have other opinions? They read other websites, like other Facebook pages and follow different people on Twitter. Everyone lives in their ‘’opinion-bubble’’, closed off to anyone that disagrees with them.
Thus, Democrats were blown away when Trump won. Every website they read, every post on Facebook or Twitter, everyone in their opinion-bubble supported Clinton. It was a complete shock to them that there were people that did not share those views. The exact same logic applies to the Brexit-vote.
Joris is a generally left-wing type of guy, and in the book he repeats over and over again how confused he has become since Trump’s victory and the Brexit. He realizes he has been living in his own bubble. The bubble is likely less ‘strong’ for those that supported Trump, as all the main-stream media channels agreed Hillary would win. With the majority of TV channels and common newspapers leaning to the left, their bubble will be more intense.
What he does next is admirable. Joris opens up to the other side. He reads the arguments made by those opposing his worldview. Moreover, he does not immediately dismiss them. He considers the arguments made and how valid they are, and he comes to the realization that people have legitimate concerns that they are trying to raise. Additionally, he realizes that it is too much of a simplification to say anyone with a different worldview must by default be a racist, or a Nazi, or close-minded person from a backwards village.
Yet, overall, this is what happens everywhere. People are so locked into their opinion-bubbles that they shut down whenever someone utters an opinion that does not fit their narrative. References to Trump supporters and Brexiteers as racists or Nazis should not come as a surprise to anyone.
Open an Honest Debate
I may disagree with Joris on many topics, but I enjoy reading his books and I agree with him whole-heartedly when he says we need to enter into dialogue with one another. We need to be able to discuss our ideas and not to stop listening right at the start and shut down the debate. This is the only way to end polarization taking place in politics.
Let us not forget rather than entering into dialogue, Clinton preferred to name-call Trump supporters as ‘deplorables’. Trump behaved in a similar way by calling Hillary a ”crooked” woman. That is exactly the type of behavior that must end. We must go beyond the left-right paradigm and enter into debates to figure out what truly is the best direction to take for our nations.
We must leave our opinion-bubbles and re-embrace free thinking, freedom of speech, and the love of debate.