UnRival Your Perspective: Navigating News, Partisanship, & Your Peace of Mind
Navigating news, partisanship, and politics can be confusing, frustrating, and polarizing–but it doesn’t always have to be. In this guide, learn how to slow down, break through the noise, and unrival your approach to consuming media with four simple practices.
A recent poll revealed that a large minority of US citizens distrust their political opponents more than ever. They’re willing to explore “alternatives” to democracy if it means keeping the other side out of power. A significant number also believe their opponents are “so extreme” that “it is acceptable to use violence to stop them from achieving their goals.” These attitudes extend not only to government officials, but to fellow voters as well.
This is a frightening time for Americans, not only because of the polarization in our politics but also because of what it implies about our relationships with one another. I’m sure that everyone reading this has struggled to talk about the state of our country and of the world in mixed company. Each of us has known, confidently if quietly, when someone else had a wrong and dangerous perspective that needed trouncing. Or else, we’ve raised an objection only to get verbally beaten down for having the “wrong” perspective. These recent polls put those disagreements into a new and unnerving perspective.
For better and worse, civil engagement is colored by how we read and interpret news and current events. But what do we do when keeping up-to-date seems to only ever result in runaway feelings and deeper polarization? How can we bear up under the emerging fact that even our most carefully-worded opinions can provoke our neighbors into “enemy mode”?
The world wants you polarized
In 2021, for the first time ever, the Edelman Trust Barometer reported that less than half of all US citizens acknowledge any kind of trust in mainstream media. 56% of Americans agreed that journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or exaggerated, and 59% agreed that most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public. The numbers have only gotten worse.
In his book The Forgotten Art of Being Ordinary, author CJ Casciotta describes how modern media has become a “crisis discipline.” The problem, he writes, is not necessarily the content of the media; it’s the presentation of information that should give us pause. The social-media-fication of our communications channels means that “views” and “engagement” are the be-all, end-all. Studies consistently show the best way to achieve high numbers is to be divisive.
Journalists like William Davies and others have pointed out that our modern engagement with media is deeply individualistic. Appealing to that individualism, today’s news cycle is designed to suck us in and create rivalry at the same time as it informs us. We form opinions based on the erroneous idea that we are sifting “good” facts from “bad” facts. Naturally, we check our versions of truth against others’, but not in a way that draws us together. We are embroiled in a perpetual competition for the “right perspective,” rather than a collaboration to discover the truth.
Is it any wonder that we’re coming to see those with different opinions are dangerous, as threats to civil life?
This situation leaves us in a double bind: we need to rely on the news in order to have a clear and informed picture of the world. But the delivery of that news is designed to rile us emotionally. We have the tools we need to create informed opinions, but those same tools keep us from using our intelligence and reasoning to the best of our abilities. Being “well informed” is synonymous with living at breakneck speed through a flurry of half-read headlines, placing us at enmity with our neighbors.
“We are psychologically and sociologically incompatible with the devices we have created,” CJ writes, advocating a renaissance of slowness. “Perhaps the deliberate decision to go slower…is not an admission of failure but a sign of wisdom.”
With CJ, we at unRival believe that slowing down reconnects us with our relational capacities. By deliberately practicing slowness, we can remain informed, empathetic, and reasonable. We can model the ordinariness of never knowing everything all at once. As a result, we must rely more deeply on the perspectives of others. By modeling this sort of humility, we can recruit others into a collaboration over the truth, rather than a competition over who is right.
Here are four practices that can get you started on your slow-news journey:
1. Pay Attention.
First steps always feel a little like stating the obvious, but the fact is that every one of us needs practice paying attention to how we receive information. All the lessons we’re talking about here start in our bodies.
How do we feel when you read the news, or get in discussions with others? What happens in our bodies when we read something scandalous, provocative, or just plain wrong?
In Escaping Enemy Mode, authors Jim Wilder and Ray Woolridge show that the brain is hardwired for relationships. When our brains receive negative relational information–whether it be someone averting eye contact, or hearing news that scandalizes us–our relational hardwiring short-circuits and we enter “enemy mode.” The brain builds defenses around our personal and group identities, including:
- Seeing other people’s motives as “bad”
- Recruiting others to resist or attack a perceived enemy
- Wanting the “other side” to lose
- Seeing others as closer to inanimate objects (25)
“Enemy mode” comes with a whole host of bodily feelings. Artisans of peace in our network have described these feelings of rivalry as tightness or stuckness, a hopeless and constraining feeling. Paying attention to those feelings, knowing what they signal in us, is the first and most crucial step to mastering them.
What sorts of behaviors do we engage in to try and handle the feeling or make it go away? Do we sit with such feelings, or try to bring others into them?
I personally have a bad habit of reading a headline, and letting my first feelings tell me I’ve got the gist of the story. I’ll tell my wife about what’s going on in the world, based on my own cursory and inflamed reading. I’m feeling threatened, and desperate to recruit someone else to my side! When she asks me, “Is that true?” (more on that below), I often have to admit that I don’t really know. I’ve allowed my feelings to break off my attention.
Keep your attention. Stay stuck in. Get the whole story, and stay curious about why your body might be getting into “enemy mode.”
2. Get Curious.
With our attention intact, it’s time to ask more questions – of what we’re reading or hearing, and of ourselves, too.
First, we must question new information. We need to not take everything at face value – but that doesn’t mean being dismissively suspicious, either. We need to practice not merely reacting to what we’re learning, but asking, Why is it this way? How might it be different? Is this the whole story? Once we grasp how much we don’t know, we can balance that against our feelings.
Feelings are a form of habit. They are compasses pointing us to what is good and desirable. If we get angry at something we read in the news, it’s because our feelings are telling us, “the world is supposed to be better than this!” That’s good. We should want things to be better. But how, and why?
Too often, “feeling bad” stops us from asking these questions of value. If we read a story and conclude that Senator So-and-So is ruining the country again, our problem is really more concrete than that: someone in a position of power doesn’t value what we value. And that makes it hard to trust where things are going.
When we get curious about our feelings, we realize that our feelings often tell us our values are under threat. This reminds us of what our values actually are. When we remember what our values are, and how we formed them, it’s a little easier to appreciate how other people arrive at different values.
Even if we believe that they ought to share our values in the end, we can tap a reservoir of patience for those who don’t think like we do right now.
3. Be Reasonable.
I tell my wife she’s the most reasonable person I know. This helps keep the peace in our household! But I’m not just being irenic: she isn’t always right, but her first question is almost always, “Is this true?” The fact that this is not always my first question means I need to keep practicing my attention, my curiosity, and my reasonableness.
At its most basic, being reasonable just means distinguishing the true and the false. Modern media tends to communicate as though this work has already been done for us. We say, “They couldn’t report it if it wasn’t true; therefore I can skip to being angry about it!” Or else, “Such-and-such a channel said this was the case, and we know they’re all liars!”
Remember that none of us has the whole story. We’re all doing our best with partial information. Not a lot of us are practicing attention and curiosity, either, which leads us to communicate our piecemeal stories with fear, venom, or rage. As we practice picking through our own feelings, we’ll get better at seeing through the feelings of others, too. We’ll get better at patiently piecing together the partial stories we’re all bringing to the table. We’ll stop reacting with, “How dare you think that way?!” and start getting more curious: “Why do you think that? Why do you fear I am against you?”
At every stage of the process, we’ll be asking: Is this true? If it is not true, then why do people believe it to be so? Why might someone want it to be true? If it is true, then how are we going to respond?
Paradoxically, the more confident we are that something is true, the less threatened we feel by new information and the easier it is to manage our feelings about it. The more we’re able to be patient with opposing perspectives, the more we trust the process of bringing one another to the truth.
Understanding the nature of rivalry is the first step on our journey to unrival our perspective.
Our short film The unRival Invitation, undertakes a journey from the battle-ready beliefs common within us to the healing relief of true belonging in a community without destructive rivalry.
4. (Re)Form Your Community.
After all this work, this step might be the hardest part of the process. After all, we’re working hard to become more attentive, curious, and reasonable. Not everyone around us is putting in the same effort.
But truth is not a conclusion we come to by ourselves. Truth is something worked out in community, as we decide together how to interpret the facts that inundate us. We parse those facts from the values of those who report them. We knit our values together, and decide collectively what’s at stake as the world changes around us. All of us – even at our most inattentive, incurious, and unreasonable – need to be able to live in the same world together.
And that starts with us deciding to live in the same world as others.
In Ohio, where I live, there’s a bill on the ballot that’s dividing us. When the topic came up between my wife and her coworker, it could easily have led to an explosion – but it didn’t. Why?
Here’s one big reason: both of them have read the entire bill. Both of them see things in the bill that they disagree with, that they believe go too far.
Each of them was attentive and curious enough to read the whole bill, reasonably weighing its contents against their values. The result was that they came together over a shared picture of reality, despite their deep disagreements about what’s best for our state and country.
The lesson is clear: the better attention we pay, and the more information we gather, the more likely we are to find common ground with others.
Commit to not reading the news alone; regularly discuss current events with a few trusted people. Be attentive and curious together; ask how our different information and interpretations lead to different conclusions. Focus together on if and how our lives will be different in light of how fast the world is changing every day.
Remember: each of us has only part of the story. If we want truth, we need each other, first.
If you enjoyed this interview, consider the following blog posts:
Want to learn more about how unRival Network is disrupting rivalry and advancing the cause of justice and peace? Click here to access our free resource, Peace is Possible.
There is hope in these divided and difficult times.
The world's peace builders desperately need spaces of trust, curiosity, and collaboration. Meet the need by supporting gatherings that nurture hope and inspire creative solutions to the world's toughest problems.
Join us to transform communities plagued by violence and rivalry.