I’m not one for making New Year’s Resolutions; in fact, my last resolution was at 11 years old when I promised I would eat less peanut butter (I happily failed that one).
Yet, on the eve of 2017, I found myself making a silent promise to me. As I sat on a mountain, waiting for the fireworks, I promised I would get myself out of my own political bubble that I have been contentedly floating in. I know, a rad New Year’s Eve.
I had to venture to the other side.
If you haven’t already wondered what prompted such a thing, it started with this dude:
And this woman:
Even though I live on the other side of the world, the 2016 American Election was an issue I found myself deeply invested in, as did many people. And no matter which side of the political fence you sit on, if at all, you can probably agree the result of this particular election surprised a number of people. And whether that was a happy or unhappy surprise, or not even a surprise, is totally personal.
For full disclosure, the potential of a Clinton Presidency was really important to me. But I won’t take my time explaining why. I will, however, tell you I spent the following months considering how the results of election day had come about. My already small bubble had been sucked even more as I wondered: how the hell did I not see this coming?
And this, ultimately led me to a mountain top on New Year’s Eve promising that I would no longer be living in Abby Ballard’s vacuum. And by that I mean the media bubble where I was surrounded by news and views that aligned with the ones I already had. I needed to step outside my bubble and learn about the people whose views were different to mine, and it goes beyond American politics.
Why? Because through learning about others we create understanding. When we get stuck in our ideological environments – from where we live to what we read and who we talk to – we isolate the other side. Rather than listen to them, we think for them. When we permit others to talk and ourselves to listen we take a step forward to understanding the complex human identity. No longer are we split in two by red and blue, rather we’re diverse human creatures with our own lived experiences, fears, and hopes.
Choosing to ignore those opposite is no longer an option for me, and I suggest it shouldn’t be for you, either. This statement is true no matter which side of the political fence you sit on. Listening to people won’t necessarily have you handing in your Liberal/Labor/Greens membership, but it should create empathy and understanding.
The question is where to start.
Find and realise your bias.
An excellent first step is actually acknowledging if, and to what extent, a filter exists in your world. If you’re only getting your news on Facebook, chances are you’re probably only seeing news shared by people like you, or news that’s tailored to your preferences.
Try downloading PolitEcho. This Chrome plug-in essentially trawls all the stuff happening on your Facebook account, including your friends, the pages you like, and the news in your newsfeed, and then sends infographics laying out how it looks politically.
For the sake of a laugh, take a look at some of my results:
Lesson one: most of my friends are on the left. No surprise for me there.
Then, if you hover over the bubbles on the infographics they send you, it shows what types of pages a friend likes, also highlighting how that page swings politically.
It’s important to not only know the news but understand where it is coming from. It’s not like I thought conservative media didn’t exist, but for me personally, just prior to the US election, it didn’t have a place in my world.
If we can recognise from something as simple as an infographic that our bubble is real, then it might propel you to burst it.
Bubbles can be best burst through podcasts.
You can burst your bubble many ways, but I am deep diving with podcasts that facilitate conversations between the “left” and “right” (if you accept that terminology).
Podcasts work well because, a) you can listen to them wherever you go, and b) hearing someone’s voice is incredibly humanising. It does more good to hear them as a human than reimagining them as a monstrous troll on Twitter.
For those based in Australia, co-founder of Mamamia, Mia Freedman did this recently on her No Filter podcast. She did a four episode series talking to public figures with views different to hers. Just like me, she wanted to burst her bubble so she spent some time talking to people whose politics she didn’t necessarily agree with. Why? While you can agree or disagree with someone’s views, listening to them talk their reasoning through bridges a divide. A divide between the “left” and the “right” and busting the myth that only politically identical humans can be friends.
It goes beyond politics. Listen to podcasts that tell stories about people with different backgrounds and experiences unlike your own.
Eat your “vegetable” news.
This might not make sense right now, but I’ll quickly explain.
In an episode of Mia Freedman’s podcast, she talks to TV and radio presenter Paul Murray. In it he suggested reading the news and viewpoints you don’t politically align yourself with more regularly. Murray suggested treating this reading like eating your “vegetables”. It’s not something you’re going to like (if you disagree with it), but you should still do it.
It doesn’t have to be every day, but at least once a week check in with the reporting from the “other side”. Doing this has not only highlighted for me the issues that are important to readers with a different viewpoint to mine, but also the different angles we have on the same news.
If you don’t have the time for this regular scan of news, follow some alternative sites on your social media to at least glimpse the headlines. If you have the emotional capacity, delve into the comments sections.
I’m not on a mission to convert people’s politics. I also don’t have time for people who speak from a place of hate. They are not worth reading.
But, in 2017, when the world seems so divided, perpetuating the gap between each other will not fix it. Becoming more staunch in one’s views, yelling louder, or ignoring more will not fix it.
Humans will never think the same. That’s the greatest part of the human race – we can be independent thinkers, all with our unique and complex experiences that inform our world views. We also don’t just sit perfectly on one side of politics or the other. However, rejecting so many people’s thoughts because they don’t align with yours is no longer workable.
It’s only March, but my eyes are wide open; enlightened, devastated, moved, still slightly broken but always hopeful about the real world I am living in.