Opinion: Here are some ways to overcome polarization

A child observed mountain climbers rappelling off a cliff near Heise. She laughingly said she wanted to walk off the top. When told that would hurt her, she adamantly shook her head. “Uh uh.”

This illustrates polarization. More than 60% of Republicans believe Joe Biden was not lawfully elected. Nearly all Democrats believe the 2020 election was fair. Both sides emphatically shake their heads at the other side who are either corrupt or duped.

So, where do we go from here in these “United” States? If this division continues, it can’t lead anywhere good. To solve this problem, we need to address the causes of the division. That’s going to come down to individual choices.

Perhaps the biggest cause of the polarization is that many Americans have allowed their chosen media to do their thinking for them. If someone controls the information, they control the people. Until the 1980s, national policy required news outlets to present both sides of stories so individuals could make informed decisions. That is no longer the case. Now ideologically aligned media presents limited news and warns against other media. Some people get their information solely from commentaries. While commentary can be entertaining, it isn’t news. It’s someone’s perspective on the news. Their goal is to limit perspectives and generate strong emotions that lead to repeated viewership and specific beliefs. Thus, the talking head of choice does your thinking for you.

Can anything be more dangerous than granting someone else the ability to do your thinking for you?

To defend from being unduly influenced by bias, take a daily dose of varied media sources. Bias is real, but it doesn’t mean the information is false. It means the information is incomplete. Consuming multiple sources allows a better understanding of issues. It’s essential for bridging the media gap in this country.

The next big challenge: We must reject the idea that people who disagree are the enemy or stupid. Labels are nearly always hyperbole — and usually don’t reflect an understanding of someone else’s true beliefs. Chances are very slim that the other side hates America. What do they really want? Ask someone with a different political view. What freedoms seem to be at risk?

Another major cause of polarization is people choosing a political banner and supporting it no matter what.

Too many Americans have decided they are Democrats or Republicans and that’s how it has been in their family for decades. Well, your Republican or Democrat Party is not the same as it was 40, 50 or 60 years ago. Does it really fit your belief system?

Beware of claims that the Constitution is defined only according to one political perspective and watch out for all-or-nothing arguments that reward polarization instead of unity. Very few issues are black and white. Good government depends on finding balance and compromise. Any party or politician that declares compromise is bad doesn’t recognize our rich history as a country. At the end of the day, we all need to live together.

Wendy Norman is a local teacher and a member of the Jefferson County Democratic Central Committee. She is a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.