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Common Ground Sought Amid Media, Political Polarization

A series of national conversations launched this week aims to improve the quality of today's typical debates, where each side repeats talking points without truly listening to opposing points of view. (Pixabay)
A series of national conversations launched this week aims to improve the quality of today's typical debates, where each side repeats talking points without truly listening to opposing points of view. (Pixabay)
April 24, 2018

COLORADO SPRINGS, Co. – Three in four Americans believe the inability of people to disagree without being disagreeable has reached a crisis level. That's according to organizers of the National Week of Conversation, an effort to bring communities together to talk it out.

Martin Garnar, dean of the Kraemer Family Library at CU's Colorado Springs campus, is hosting "Just Talk: Media and Polarization" today. He says in recent years, there's been a lot of interest in the media's role in shaping public debate, as well as why political topics have become "off limits" in many settings.

"People are just excited to have a chance to unpack what they're seeing and hearing, and try to get back to a place where we can have those discussions that are more productive - rather than turning into just shouting matches," Garnar says.

Garnar says one tip for better conversations is to listen first and focus on understanding a person's point of view, instead of thinking of a good counter-argument to win a debate. Garnar adds it's also helpful to use "I" statements, avoiding assumptions or generalizations by describing how you personally experience or think about a topic.

Over the last 40 years or so, the media landscape has shifted from major networks and newspapers to an atomized spectrum of sources, and people can now "shop" for news that conforms with their worldview and ignore sources that don't.

Garnar points out that democracy depends on having different ideas represented, but says today's debates tend to result in each side repeating talking points without trying to understand opposing points of view.

"We need more practice in learning how to have those debates and discussions before we can actually get to the point of compromise and collaboration, where we can work together to come up with the best idea to solve a problem," he explains.

To find a conversation near you, visit nationalweekofconversation.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO