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Listening Season

How can we argue without deepening our divides?

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New Year's is my favorite holiday, nestled in the reflective winter solstice and topped with champagne. In theory, it's a time when we shed habits that no longer help us move forward and begin testing new ways of living, however small. This part of the ritual is becoming more urgent each year as the stakes rise and our lack of transformation maintains a status quo that threatens our survival on the planet. My primary goal in life is to assist in this transformation by bringing people together who have complementary ideas, skills and knowledge.

When I started this year, I never anticipated how difficult it would be to transition the themes and tone of my radio program to print commentary. Nor did I anticipate how different an opinion column is from an interview show. Print creates a static, permanent declaration of thought. The bold form is likely what's made it such a powerful force in history, but often the emotional process and the flexibility of dialogue is lost within it. In a short form, it's nearly impossible to share the journey, the conversations with self and others, that lead to an opinion.

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I don't think that print or opinion writing is to blame for the deeply divided political culture in this country, but we need to address it directly. Working in this field has shown me that the division is extreme and basically constitutes a series of personalized alternative realities rather than an objective understanding of life. The feedback I've received on my pieces has come from two main camps: people who already share my outlook and wish to compliment the way I expressed it, and people who react defensively to having their worldview attacked, often in a very intense way! If a third group exists, they likely checked out of the conversation when it began to mutate into a shouting match.

We are testing the limits of language in our individualized society. Each of the camps I referred to above have their own understanding of how the world works, based largely on background, and the tools to surround themselves with people who understand similarly. I've been called a liberal as both praise and insult, all while not considering myself a liberal at all. The individualized bubbles we've constructed create differences beyond dialects, where words lose or gain meaning that isn't acknowledged by everyone participating in the communication. We each use our pet definition of a term and call it correct. While I find this fascinating from a social perspective, I am more concerned about the implications of losing language as our need to understand one another becomes more pronounced.

How can we live a life that satisfies our needs and makes us feel like an effective part of a community? When we can, I think we have a responsibility to our best selves to make choices that work toward those ends. For me, it means that my second life as a pundit here at the Inlander is ending. It's been a fascinating and humbling and surprising experience that I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in, but it's drawing to a close this month.

Thanks for listening, and I hope we can continue a conversation, face to face, as we continue our strange human experiment into a new year. ♦

Taylor Weech, who hosts the weekly public affairs program Praxis on KYRS-FM, is a Spokane writer and activist. She shares writing, photography and her podcast at truthscout.net.

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