Press Pause

Inclined to establish one nation—under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all— our precedential president, George Washington, focused on listening: he acknowledged every point of view represented in constitution drafting and lawmaking. Presidents thereafter have often struggled to emulate Washington’s example, leading to divisiveness in Congress, U.S. citizens or both. Our divisive issues today may seem different from ones the founding fathers faced; however, they can carry the same weight. Unyielding decisions we make shape the trajectory of not just U.S. history, but also world history.

Going forward from Washington, balance was no longer the quality we prioritized in our decision-makers; instead, we have chosen a singular, hard stance on the debates at hand and eventually voted ourselves into polarizing parties. That has created an environment in which divisive issues such as the following prosper today: racial, gender and socioeconomic inequality. But how can we direct ourselves to balanced deliberation once again?

Photo by Raphael Li

There are a few reasons why many people tend to restrict themselves with one viewpoint. First and foremost, humans have an innate bias instilled as the product of the people with whom they are surrounded, the setting they live in, their cultural and familial background and, most importantly, their experiences. That’s okay; no person can be absolutely neutral in every decision they make. However, they always have the option of going the extra mile of looking through another’s eyes. And that’s not impossible, because when we empathize with others unlike ourselves, profound unity and understanding mend our differences.

So how do we achieve balanced deliberation? Personally, I am not only a journalist, but also a young minority. I can’t say, with confidence, that I have absolute authority over my own stances until I have done my own research, talked with other people and listened. Even then, the possibility of new information and new viewpoints may lead to a shift in stance. I need to stay open to that possibility. Have you ever thought about what it’s like to be an African American male in the NFL while “Take a Knee” is happening? Have you ever put yourself in the shoes of a white police officer while protests are taking place in cities like St. Louis and Charlottesville? I certainly cannot: I share zero characteristics with those people. But I can do research, I can talk to my African American friends, classmates and leaders, and I can talk to my school resource officers and the local police department. And I should, because until I have done those things, I cannot, with confidence, derive a definitive decision.

Reality is not black and white. Achieving understanding of all the shades in between can be the most intimidating thing in the world, and often when people are intimidated, they can get aggravated and defensive in debate. But it’s important to remember that the only way to achieve understanding is to accept compromises, and to compromise, you must communicate without having the mindset to win a debate going into a conversation. Take a step back, press pause and think. Try to understand as much as you can, and if you still don’t feel like you can make a decision, then you don’t have to. Learning is the goal in conversation, not winning.

Graphic by Sam Shi

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Lin-Lin Mo