Breaking News #6: Maintaining Optimism in a Polarized Political World

Breaking News is free for everyone to access. You can grab the mp3 file below, or you can subscribe at:

Join Ben Hunt, Matt Zeigler and Jack Forehand as we break open the news to reveal the nudging language behind the headlines. Media bias is real, but not in the way you think.

The political world is becoming more polarized by the day. Whether it be on social media, in the news, or in the real world, extreme opinions continue to dominate any attempt to take a more balanced view. In our previous episodes, we have looked at why this is occurring, and why it is likely to get worse before it gets better.

But that doesn’t mean we should give up. There are many things those of us who don’t want to give in to this polarization can do to better navigate this world and to find like minded people who also feel the same way. In this episode, we explore them and have an honest conversation about how all of us can be better citizens, and better people as the world around us becomes more challenging.

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  1. Avatar for Tanya Tanya says:

    I see you gentlemen have kept up the tradition of getting better and better. While I have to say there wasn’t a ton of optimism, it was definitely a great episode.

    I absolutely agree with what Ben said about how voting is the least you can do, in fact I said almost exactly the same thing verbatim to my partner the other day. He has it in his head that I’m some sort of social justice warrior because I’m sympathetic to some social/minority issues, and he was saying, “You vote for those policies” which is true, but I’m not out on the street protesting. The most I’ve really done so far is listening, a LOT of listening (and trying to speak up when I can), and writing checks. (But as Ben said voting is important, but it’s just one small piece.)

    With the generational issues, I think there’s more of a separation in terms of “small” things – for example I used cc: in a tweet yesterday, and I think younger people may not even know what that is. Also, someone was talking about training a new employee and she kept referring to the ‘Save’ icon as ‘Honda’ because it looks like the Honda logo. Who has seen a floppy disk in the last 20 years?!?

    But on the macro level I think that we come together across generations on the important issues, the human issues, more often than not. Certainly there is the “get off my lawn” stereotype (I’m close!!) and the “participation trophy” millennial stereotype, etc., but I have hope that we do connect as humans. (Oh hey, optimism!)

    With the 2020 election, in addition to possible Democratic Party manipulation, another factor I think was that the people that were Biden voters in the primary were not the people on social media that were making all the noise. It may seem that other candidates have a groundswell of support in that arena, but it’s a minority of the people that actually vote. Purely anecdotally, a black person I know said his parents said all along that Biden would be the nominee in 2020, even when it still looked like a long shot.

    Finally, loved Matt’s Coolio “drop the mic” moment at the end!

  2. Loved this podcast, took notes, I learn something new about how to react and engage with people in this “Brave new polarized, narrative world” each time I hear/see it discussed in a slightly different way. The best teachers do this. They take a complex subject and present it, explain it in a somewhat different way to help the listener/student let it become intuitive. I’m clearly not there yet but am on my way .
    Thanks Ben for giving me opportunities to improve.

  3. I love your micro/macro thoughts here @Tanya - it’s a weird balancing act inside of ourselves. I think if we’re not talking/thinking about it actively, like you are with your partner, it’s easy to forget about or ignore or forget it matters. But somehow, if we start there over and over again, it can get us to do something (which “better than nothing” doesn’t feel optimistic either, but I wonder if that’s the low bar we all really need?).


  4. it’s the framework to self-explore and then talk through with others! And the teachers are everywhere - it’s all about following your natural intuitions to fumble with new challenges (like you and hey, all of us here are doing).

    re: “react and engage” - any situations or comments or questions on this? this could be a great mailbag question for the next episode…

  5. Listened to this twice as I was distracted a bit the first time, yet knew it needed more attention.

    There are timeless concepts in this episode. The idea that one should forgive (up to a point), that relationships are usually repairable and require actual effort to succeed is a great reminder towards active engagement. I can and will do better. “First, seek to understand” is something that’s been heard and agreed to many times, why the hell can’t I always remember this in the moment?

    “Don’t give engagement to a political party”. Done and DONE! (That was easy). I wonder what the Lincoln Project might be gearing up for in the primaries? Maybe nothing, it might serve their business interests if whats-his-name wins the primaries first. Ben mentioned that he’d rather stay at home than engage in politics, but I have to wonder if that toXic platform has a very high gravitational pull at the home office….you’re doing us all a service!

    I’ll share one of the most hated questions I’ve consistently been asked in the past two decades:

    “So, where do you work, what do you do?”

    As a Pharmaceutical rep in Bernie Sanders territory, an honest answer was commonly a bucket of ice water on any potential conversation. Sometimes to my benefit perhaps, although there were a number of cool “First seek to understand” types who were worth spending some time with. I belatedly figured out a way to effectively deal with it regardless of where or with whom I was. Maybe one of these responses could be useful to someone else:

    1. “I never reveal that on a first date” (coy smile). Best for intermittent interactions.
    2. “Let’s hold off a few days, then see if you’re willing to make a guess” (raised eyebrows, smile). This worked great when at places for a straight long weekend or more. Tons of fun when the guesses were way off and the reveal a big surprise.

    Delivery is key.

    Finally, the conversation about avoiding transactional relationships brought much reflection. I’ve met a number of people who were majorly that way, but by NOT playing that game a few of them became good friends (via genuine shared interests, not golfing) as they were helped to be shown a different way. Not that I haven’t been guilty of same, I have been, but in a much subtler and even subconscious way. Now my awareness of this personal flaw in the past few years (the orange-haired dude helped me recognize it in myself) has made it become almost extinct. About time.

  6. Ha ha ha ha!
    Two stories adjacent to this, only one of which I will tell for brevity’s sake.
    Quite some number of years ago and working right out of college I met an age-appropriate young lady in a bar in Flagstaff. Turns out she was from Germany. Your favorite question came up; she replied that she’d just graduated University, she was touring US parks, and that by the way that would be a culturally inappropriate question in most of Europe.

    Her clarification was this - and I invite any of our Euro-members to add to the discussion - there isn’t that much intergenerational variation in career choices. If your father is an engineer at Mercedes you’ll probably be one as well. If you’re from a family of laborers you’ll probably (have to) be satisfied with the options open to you. I came away with the impression that a.) there isn’t as much social mobility there as here, and b.) there’s an aversion to linking what might be considered social worth to your career since there isn’t much choice involved.

    At any rate that explanation stuck with me, perhaps more because she was cute than because it cost me a couple of beers.

    @Em_Lofgren, any other EU members, does this resonate? Do people there hate the question as much as @RobMann, maybe for different reasons?

    I will buy a virtual beer for answers. :rofl:

  7. Love that story! It resonates also because I spent four years of my mid-teens in Vienna and completely understand its background.

    Austria in the ‘70s was known to not have much social mobility in the absence of beziehung - connections/references to help one jump ahead.
    Thank you for giving another, deeper reason to hate that question even more (as a form of introduction) .

    Prost! :beer:

  8. As much as I doubt that I can successfully represent the entire European continent (with its diverse set up national cultures…) as a Norwegian educated in the US and now living in the UK…I will give it a try!

    It’s possible that there used to be something to the social mobility theory, but I would think that this is now fairly outdated. At least in Norway/Sweden/Denmark and the UK. Speaking generally and in broad strokes about European culture, I think the perceived rudeness of the question has more to do with the fact Europeans are often not as attached to their “work-identity” as their American counterparts. A significant number of people do not view their work as being particularly important, out with its obvious practical importance of producing income, and the sheer necessity of having one makes it “bad taste” to ask about work as a way of getting to know someone. The inference being that you should be asking about entirely different things if you truly want to get to know someone. There is more to life than work etc.

    Personally, I think that asking about someone’s work, early in a conversation at least, is usually just a socially acceptable way for strangers to ascertain each other’s socioeconomic standing - hence the perceived crassness of the question.

    In the UK, the picture is further complicated by the concept of class. Asking about someone’s profession is a very useful method of figuring out someone’s standing in life, but here in the UK you can very easily go wrong. The lower working classes will immediately be put off by this question, and the upper middle class/higher class will try to cover up the fact that they often don’t work at all. In the middle, it will be hit and miss I would say.

    I think the most interesting part of your question has to do with why it is so different in the US. Does it have to do with most people’s general lack of leisure time and holidays? Work ethic?

    Personally, I have different reasons for not liking the question. My husband marvels at my inability to reply in a clear and concise manner when asked this very question. What do you do? Well, I manage money for other people, companies and pensions. Sounds simple, but I usually mumble on about investments, stocks and shares blah blah blah. If I attempt to be my own therapist I think it is pretty clear why I mumble. I simply do not identify much with the majority of other people that I find myself working with, and it is not a profession I chose so much as one I ended up in over a protracted period due to being reasonably good at it. I have worked for three companies in the UK since I started this career and two of them approached me with offers that were hard to refuse at the time. The first job was a result of a widely cast net of different positions following my arrival in the UK. It just so happened that the trainee position at the 100 year old stockbroking company was the most interesting fish in the net!

    So when people ask me about what I do, I recognize the question for what it is. An attempt to get to know me better. And giving them my job title or description therefore very much feels like intentionally giving someone wrong directions…so I mumble, deflect and use far too many words - in the hope that the ensuing conversation will be more illuminating than any answer I could provide.

    Having written this down, I think an important missing dimension here is gender - I’m guessing that many men, especially if still on the dating scene, find this question to be more than a little loaded…
    We have come far, but alas not that far.

  9. You nailed it Em. People who aren’t thrilled with their job identity (edit: myself very much included) and want to avoid deception might be more likely to fumble the answer, perhaps for a long time.

    Another scenario to channel other than dating is the situation where a group of 10 men share occupancy of a remote, somewhat pricey Canadian fishing lodge with guides for the week. You attend with a buddy, but the other 8 are unknown quantities except for the shared passion of chasing finny creatures in the wilds.

  10. That’s fantastic - agreed that you nailed it!

    Perhaps that’s another way that Americans make themselves “ugly” on the Continent. The micro version for folks in the rural Western US is that it’s rude to ask a rancher how many cattle they own, about the equivalent of asking how much money you made last year.

    That… is a whole 'nother level of complication. We colonists don’t have peerage, so we (perhaps) depend too quickly and heavily on other means to establish a social pecking order. So to the difference, I think it has less to do with leisure and more to do with either probing social standing, or finding common ground for conversation. I don’t know anything about astrophysics (and damn little about investing), but I can listen to people talk about bass playing for quite a while. Longer than my wife.
    That said, I’ve left some interactions wondering how a Starbucks barista came to be, say, in a group of 10 men in a remote, somewhat pricey Canadian fishing lodge. Invisible means of support?

    Among my friends are a few who are non-degreed yet extremely experienced manufacturing specialists working in positions almost exclusively occupied by degreed engineers. They have to do a different dance, sometimes mumbling, sometimes defending their occupation. A bit easier for the software people I know who’ve proven themselves competent and don’t need to lean back on their diploma - or lack of one.

    To attempt to connect it to the title of the thread maybe there’s an opportunity to think and interact differently around “First, seek to understand” and the work/status/worth/polarization calculus we orient to in social introductions. Can I do better remaining optimistic and gracious when I find out my aisle seat neighbor for this 3 hour flight is a (Planned Parenthood clinic director / Jim Jordan campaign manager), or should I learn to be more creative and flexible and let the conversation reveal what it needs to reveal? Better to learn enough to guess that Rob is a pharm rep, and hold off on that vaccine tirade. (I jest! :sweat_smile:)

    Thanks, Em, for the comprehensive answer! Your Guinness is inbound! :beer:

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