Opinion | Paul Olson: I’m glad we had a chance to talk | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Paul Olson: I’m glad we had a chance to talk

A liberal Muslim woman and a Trump devotee meet by chance at a protest and find common ground and friendship. A religious pro-life man and a woman who works at Planned Parenthood open up to each other about their lives and values.

These people are participants in One Small Step, a program that is part of Storycorps.org. A recent “60 Minutes” segment featured One Small Step and the organization’s mission to arrange meetings between people with contrasting political or social views. Participants are encouraged to not talk politics but instead to find the common elements of their lives.

Of course we don’t have to wait for One Small Step to arrange a get-together with someone.

Every day there are opportunities to just start a conversation with another shopper at City Market or a fellow skier while riding up the chairlift. We cross paths with people with much different political views each day in Summit County. We just don’t realize that they are our political opponents because their personal lives seem so much like our own in how they care about their family, work to make a good living and enjoy the great outdoors.

It is unfortunate that many of us prefer to get our news from sources that confirm our existing biases. In doing so we may be left with inaccurate stereotypes that keep us from trusting and cooperating with others. A 2015 Pew Research nationwide poll found that Democrats believed 44% of Republicans made over $250,000 per year and that 44% are age 65 or older. The actual percentages are 2% and 21%, respectively. Republicans were just as misinformed. Those Republicans surveyed believed that 46% of Democrats are black and 38% are gay, lesbian or bisexual. The actual percentages are 24% and 6%. And, no surprise, the more political media people consumed the more mistaken they were. The internet is amazing for giving us quick access to facts, but we have to be able to differentiate between facts and propaganda.

A 2021 CBS News/YouGov poll found that almost half of both Republicans and Democrats stated that they saw members of the other party not just as opponents but as enemies and that they believed the other political party was the biggest threat to America’s way of life. I hope these angry people don’t live in my town. Nothing is going to get better in our community or in Washington unless we each decide to make an effort to build bridges with those with different beliefs. If you are frequenting social media and cable news, which are spreading fear and anger to boost their ratings and profits, you might want to consider taking a break from this extremist baloney. Consider volunteering at some Summit County nonprofit organization in order to meet people outside your usual social circle.

On a more positive note, a Pew Research poll in 2021 found that about half of both Republicans and Democrats said that they derive the most meaning in their lives from family and children. Friends, community and other relationships was also a strong choice for both groups. How can these two groups who have such similar values about what is important in their lives misunderstand each other to such a degree? Perhaps they need to take that one small step and chat with someone who is on the other side of the political spectrum. The next time you write a letter to the Summit Daily or want to share or retweet on social media consider whether your motivation is to gently persuade and bring people together or if it is to promote anger and division.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haight’s essay “Why the Last 10 years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid” in the May issue of The Atlantic discussed how social media has been a prime culprit in dividing Americans by chipping away trust in government and each other. Our Constitution was purposely designed to slow things down, cool passions and require compromise. Social media and extreme internet sites are constantly fighting against the prudent framework of our republic. Haight suggests keeping children off social media until they’re well into their teen years and he encourages everyone to volunteer in their community to build friendship and trust among a broad group of citizens.

Don’t let social media or self-serving commentators make you distrust your neighbor. Escape the screen and go hike a mountain trail. The unity of Americans is always confirmed to me just before a Bronco game at Mile High Stadium — 75,000 people from diverse political and personal backgrounds stand as one and join in the National Anthem, all proud of their country, all part of the American team. I have lived in Summit County for 27 years and have yet to meet a Democrat or Republican. There are just 30,000 people who seem quite similar to myself. When we are working together in businesses, schools and charities for the common good our political differences vanish.

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