What Happened To Listening?
We all have had conversations in recent months about President Donald Trump. To some, he is a savior, to others, a fascist. Regardless, he has single-handedly awoken an apathetic country that had lost its sense of identity well before he ran for office. This is what we must talk about, repair and build on.
Some think this nation has recently favored minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ people and pushed trade policies more beneficial to other countries, while ignoring the needs of non-affluent white males, primarily in rural areas and industrial centers, over-regulating businesses and punishing those who are successful by overtaxing them. Others believe we must do much more to balance the field of opportunity for those not as fortunate as white men, protect individual rights to live and love as one chooses, increase immigration and work visa permits, regain our world leadership in global trade (especially in the trans-Pacific), increase regulations on commerce and tax the rich more. I could go on, but you get it: Polar opposites exist, and they’re growing more entrenched by the day.
We need to start making a good-faith effort to understand opposing viewpoints or risk becoming two separate Americas, further escalating hostility and economic uncertainty at home and weakening us abroad; a divided country that wastes time and energy fighting among its citizens becomes an easy target for external forces.
Look around right now and listen.
Whether you’re in an office common area, a doctor’s waiting room or a restaurant, on a train or waiting to board a plane, what are those around you talking about, watching and listening to? What percent, roughly, are playing games or watching a movie or TV, shopping online, or in discussions reaffirming their convictions with inaccurate sources (including Trump tweets)? How much of what people are doing focuses on learning verified facts and understanding people with views different from their own? From what I’ve seen and heard, it’s very little.
Spending less time on mindless entertainment and opinionated content, and more on accurate information from reasonably unbiased sources, would increase our collective ability to clearly think through tough issues.
Of course, we need escapism and things to laugh about. Trump’s tweets, SNL and bizarrely out-of-touch comments by some from all corners—right, left and independent—are great conversation starters. But just as eating too many carbs are bad for us, so, too, is digesting too much entertaining but unimportant content. And as eating too much of one thing can hurt, so does focusing only on content that reaffirms one’s beliefs.
So after turning off or reducing the junk content in your life, where can you turn for substance?
Not to non-journalist bloggers and tweeters, or those cable news networks, radio talk shows, magazines and “news” websites focused on entertainment or shock value, presenting a certain political viewpoint or providing content that is biased or untrue. This is what “fake news” means: stuff that comes from a source benefiting if the public believes what it is saying to be fair and factual, when it really is not.
Admittedly, it is the “real news” media’s fault for not better marketing what journalism is all about. Journalists are, however, wired to focus on the needs of society before themselves; less obvious but just as important, they’ve also been working with a crumbling business model that has reduced their ranks by more than 50 percent since the 1990s. Their organizations haven’t had the time or money to think about marketing, while the “fake news” outlets have received billions of dollars in support from corporations or special interest groups.
Real journalism provides evenly reported, accurate content, whether it’s about particular areas of interest (sports, entertainment, the arts) or content that’s important to know to be an informed and engaged citizen. This month’s issue of TCB, for example, examines how corporations are working to increase the percentage of women of color in their executive ranks—and why this is important. It explores Minnesota’s struggling medicalized marijuana industry, recognizing that too few residents can access and afford to pay for its products. And it includes a Q&A with the Minnesota Twins’ Dave St. Peter about the upcoming baseball season.
Journalists are here to provide you with facts and let you do with them what you want. When we write editorials and columns, we use facts in context and take a point of view in an effort to stimulate dialogue. Think we missed an important point, or disagree entirely with the point of view, write in and explain why so we can run it as a letter to the editor and have others join in the process.
Last and perhaps more importantly, there’s what we as business leaders are able and willing to do to fuel intelligent discussion on the issues that are dividing our country. We have more impact on this than we realize, given Americans spend most of their waking hours working for organizations and being a part of their cultures.
There’s leading by example. Our owner and monthly columnist Vance Opperman provides a wonderful case in point this month when writing about his relationship with the late Bill Cooper. They were friends with opposite political views.
There’s also the idea of having all-employee meetings where guest speakers present verifiable facts used by opposing sides on subjects of importance to the majority of us, and employees could ask questions afterwards. The focus would be on the common interest in the subject, not debating one view versus another. Subjects could include foreign trade policy (perhaps starting with “What’s at Stake in the Pacific,” or “NAFTA, Pros and Cons;” immigration and national security; and taxation and government spending.
There are other ideas as well, and if you have any you’d like to share, please send them in.
We have a great opportunity in front of us; people are fired up and talking about issues of national importance like we haven’t seen in decades. Now, we just have to get them to listen as well.