If you are stunned, devastated or surprised right now, raise your hand. If you are elated, relieved, or hopeful, raise your hand. Now look around. About half of our country holds your opposite view. If you are feeling any of the adjectives above, then your network has not allowed you to easily see the reverse perspective. We need to understand how the other half thinks to heal as a country and come together.
Now that it’s Wednesday we should all take a deep breath. Regardless of the results, regardless of whether you’re breathing easier or your breathing just got a whole lot deeper, its decided. As a first-time voter, I am looking back at this election with certain realizations ― both positive and negative. I have felt a shift in our society towards an inability to listen, and utilizing social media in a new way is a great starting point to “make listening great again.”
Again ― raise your hand if you use social media, social media of any kind. Now hands down. Next, consider whether you are more of a digester or a curator of content. Hold that thought.
As a millennial, so much of my election experience was centrally located on social media. Beyond the daily circulation of articles about the candidates, I found myself digesting much more. From fiery Facebook statuses, to double tapping Instagram images of friends’ selfies with Hillary, sifting through tweets that contained #ImWithHer or #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, I was overstimulated.
Hunched over my laptop in the library, in class, or off campus, I eagerly awaited something new. Something that would challenge what I was perceiving on my screens. Something that would depart or dissent from what was flooding my newsfeed.
This was my “aha” moment.
I realized that social media are oftentimes polarizing. Social media are a vehicle through which most of us re-inculcate ourselves with the same ideologies every day. Right now, as you are scrolling down your newsfeeds, you might not even realize, but you are internalizing, and sometimes adopting, everything you read and “like.” With this in mind, I decided that this could be the start of something new.
I began to follow people, organizations, and institutions on social media that reflected those opposite views. I followed a multitude of publications, news outlets, and public figures with an agenda ― most of which differed from views that I hold. If anything, you learn and foster a sense of openness.
On this day, directly following the election, let’s change our ways. If we should start somewhere in this moment, it should start with our screens. Our tangible mediums that we visit at least 50 times a day and try a thought experiment. It will be fun!
“We are giving in to confirmation bias and depriving ourselves of learning and listening to people who think differently than ourselves.”
Take out your phone and open Twitter. Go to the search tab and follow 10, no, 15 new accounts, at least, that reflect your other side. Your other side is subjective and represents some opposite way of thinking for you. For example, if you only followed Hillary Clinton in this election, go follow Donald Trump. If you follow the Fox News account, go click on MSNBC and some other news sources. If you attend a very liberal university, try to follow student organizations that reflect the other side of the spectrum. If you are a climate change proponent, go sift through some posts and arguments made by the other side. Now repeat with Facebook. Then Instagram.
We are what we believe. We form beliefs through reading, discovery, experience, and knowledge. If we spend every day adopting the ideologies of what we read on our newsfeeds, we are giving in to confirmation bias and depriving ourselves of learning and listening to people who think differently than ourselves.
A friend once told me, “The minute you realize that the rest of the world doesn’t think like you, that’s when you grow.”
I witnessed this firsthand. I helped create an evening of discussion that was open to everyone at Penn to come participate, talk, and share perspectives about the election ― from every side. We aren’t seeing situations on campus where people are talking to one another in this open context, no matter the issue. In this election, Republicans and Democrats were particularly divided and demonstrated a lack of appreciation for each others’ points of view. One student had never interacted with an identified Republican before and was thankful for this opportunity to finally listen.
Let’s challenge each other to diverse exposure. Let’s strengthen our own belief systems through the exploration of others. If we do this, then we can work together to believe in a future where we listen to one another and want to engage in meaningful discussion with the other side. Let’s bring ourselves away from the extreme and closer to the essence of democracy ― a place where every voice can be valued.
Nevertheless, I stand empowered. Empowered by my privilege to vote, by making my voice heard with the quick press of a button, and re-energized to take this next step #together.