A few weeks ago I got rid of my cable service. I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I do love the news. NBC Nightly News was my drug of choice. As the dramatic music played in the introduction, Lester Holt’s authoritative voice told me what I needed to know for the day.
But, I soon found myself in a news bubble. My opinions of the world were vastly different than my conservative family. My online go-to sources weren’t much help either: The Huffington Post, New York Times, the Atlantic. Clearly, my family and I weren’t seeing things the same way.
After the election, like most liberals, I was devastated by the results. Like most liberals, this wasn’t about Republicans vs. Democrats, this was about stopping a mentally ill man from becoming our nation’s president. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how a reasonable person could vote someone like this into the highest office of the land. My family is reasonable. Smart in fact. What was I missing?
It turns out we all share the same five core values, according to social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt: caring, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. But the emphasis we place on these values is different. Liberals value caring and fairness over the other moral foundations, while conservatives value sanctity first, and authority second.
Additionally, new research suggests that the brain structures of liberals and conservatives are also different. Liberals have an area of the brain, called the anterior cingulate gyrus, which takes in new information, as well as the impact of that information on decision-making and choices. Conservatives have an area in the brain, the right amygdala, which processes more emotional information, which tends to be fear-based. In other words, while liberals tend to follow the science and welcome new information about where society should go, conservatives tend to react to more “what if” scenarios, avoiding risks. (Think allowing refugees to enter the country).
So I decided to find out what my conservative family was hearing, and see how I would feel if I was in their place. Stories about “crooked Hillary,” Benghazi, and Clinton’s email scandal were the talk of conservatives prior to the election. Conspiracy theories ran wild. Misinformation and fake news abounded. How could they so easily accept this information without verifying if it was true?
We all believe we are right and we look for information that confirms it. Verifying the source, or even if the information is true, is irrelevant as long as it supports our point of view. Harvard Professor, David Ropeik said, “…we cling to our views because the walls of our opinions are like battlements that keep the good guys inside (us) safe from the enemy without (all those dopes with different opinions than ours). Quite literally, our views and opinions may help protect us, keep us safe, literally help us survive.”
Fox News, Brietbart, and other conservative news organizations tell stories the way conservatives want to hear them. Democrats, Muslims, Liberals, and particularly President Obama, are enemies to their way of life. Headlines like the one on Fox News Saturday, December 3, 2016, “Democrats slams Trump’s deal that saved jobs in Indiana” confirm to conservatives that liberals are out to get them. Coincidentally, Sarah Palin also slammed Trump’s deal, calling it “crony capitalism.”
I started watching Fox News and other conservative news outlets to learn how to bridge the gap between my conservative friends and family. I want to know what these news organizations are saying, and how they are saying it. I’m not looking for a fight, but as a way to share their concerns. If I felt my way of life was under attack, as many of us did with the pronouncement of Trump’s and Pence’s election to the White House, I would feel angry, resentful and frightened. And I do.
It’s easy for us to see people with opposing points of view as less than human. I was appalled to hear Trump supporters were attacked before and after the election. It is the antithesis of the message of social acceptance from the progressive left. But it shows the extent to which people, all people, will go when they feel threatened.
I no longer allow a single news outlet to form my opinions. If I find a topic of interest, I search other sources to find out if it is reported there. If so, in what ways is it being reported? I’m solely responsible for the take away of news information and how I choose to use it. True to my, perhaps overly idealistic progressive views, I want to know how to help move society into a more cohesive direction, and pay attention to the values we all share.