I don’t claim to be a know-it-all. The truth is that I’m young and I have a whole heck of a lot to learn about how the world works. But when I happen to watch cable news, particularly shows with political “pundits” such as Bill O’Reilly (Fox News) or Keith Olbermann (formerly MSNBC), I can’t help but think how destructive television like this is to the fabric of our society.
I’m not talking about whether or not the commentators lean left or right. I’m also not talking about what stories they choose to cover or not cover. That is a whole different conversation. I’m talking not only about how these shows affect the public discourse happening in political spheres, but also the private discourse happening in our homes and neighborhoods.
So much of cable news has achieved its success through appealing to the very worst part of our human nature: our egos.
Over the past decade, political commentary in the media has become about shoving an opinion down someone’s throat and expressing it in the most demeaning and condescending way possible. Emphasis is placed on who is right, who is most dominant, who can talk over others the loudest, and who gets in the last word.
These shows aren’t truly about the issues our country and world are faced with; they are about who comes out on top looking like the “winner”. But discussions about our world’s most pressing problems shouldn’t call for a winner instead of a resolution, and these conversations shouldn’t consist of one person dominating rather than multiple voices being heard.
All these “pundits” accomplish through their ultra-aggressiveness is attracting similar-minded people to rally around them or inspiring defensiveness within those with an opposing view. They do not enlighten or challenge people to think differently. They push everyone further and further into their separate corners, creating an even greater divide.
The worst part? This damaging rhetoric seeps through the media we consume into our culture. When it comes to conversing, particularly with people who hold differing opinions, kindness and compassion are positioned to be weaknesses instead of what they really are: connectors that ultimately bridge the divide.
Politics are personal. It’s personal when the government tells a woman that she cannot marry the love of her life because her partner is a woman. It’s personal when a girl born into poverty is thrown into a broken public school system, becomes pregnant, and doesn’t have the means or life experience to provide for a child. It’s personal when a woman is paid less, but yet works equally as hard and has knowledge equally as valuable to a company as her male counterparts do.
At the core, politics are a representation of our life stories: both the circumstances we’re born into, as well as our dreams, hopes and ambitions for the future. They are stories rooted in what we want for ourselves, our loved ones and the world. They are as deeply personal for me as they are for you.
Understanding and empathizing with other people’s life stories is a key first step to our growth as a country and world. Television, media and culture that exists to shame other people and feed egos, instead of to promote compassion and a genuine exchange of ideas, will only perpetuate and worsen the issues.
There is no fact, statistic, or opinion that can outweigh the benefit of validating someone else’s existence and working towards a mutual understanding. As Marianne Williamson says, “If you know how to change a heart, then you know how to change the world.”
After all, if I understand you, and you understand me, chances are we’ll accomplish a lot more together than we would apart.