A Note to Readers – It might help to know that this post is an expansion of my thoughts from an article posted 3/28/22 on Chip Conley’s wonderful website, The Modern Elder Academy in his Wisdom Well blog. If you have come from that post or have arrived here by intention or accident, “Welcome!”  You will find the additional content in bold below.

Our Silos of Thought

America! America? How did we get here? How did we become so divided?

The Right. The Left. You’re with us or against us. Good or bad.  Right or wrong. Little room in the middle for a third way or compromise. For so many in local and national government, compromise has become a negative word. When did this happen? And why? Isn’t our democracy structured around a commitment to compromise? We are charged to debate different points of view until a compromise is reached to serve the greater good.

I’m not naīve. I understand politics have always been partisan to some degree. However based upon the kinds of US Senators and members of Congress in the 60’s – 90’s there were more elected officials willing to compromise. You could still win an election if you were moderate and willing to listen to opposing points of view and vote according to your conscience and the constituency you represented.

When I started in radio station management thirty years ago, a new radio format emerged: talk radio. We looked for hosts to discuss the issues of the day. Rush Limbaugh was newly syndicated. We searched for articulate and passionate talent representing conservative and progressive points of view. This was before the media found gold in Red versus Blue America. Newt Gingrich was beginning to form his “Contract with America.” Bill O’Reilly was our NBC local news anchor in Portland Oregon. I was distressed. I was naïve. The early nineties were tame.

Little did we know as broadcasters how this new vocal and volatile format would impact our society. It seems to have unleashed a lack of civility. The more outrageous soundbite became meat to feed the media beast. And then social media began to emerge in the late 1990’s with the introduction of websites and Facebook.  Now 25 years later, we face deluge of mis-information and separation.

As a baby boomer (1946-1964), I feel a sense of responsibility to help shift the conversation. I fear we are captive to our “silos of thought.” We select news sources and use social media to justify our own points of view. What is the source of my news? How do the social media platforms I follow influence my daily mindset?

My parents’ age group, the silent generation (1926-1945) lived with no social media until the end of their adult lives. Allowed to do its job, the US Congress, 1960’s through the 1990’s, accomplished historic volumes of work by compromising, collaborating, and listening to opposing views.

I can only assess from my own experience. The State of Oregon had two moderate Republican US Senators; Mark Hatfield, 1967-1997 and Bob Packwood, 1969-1995. Maybe I’m seeing the past through rose colored glasses, but it seemed elected officals worked towards what was best for each state and the country.

Why am I afraid to discuss politics with a family member, neighbor, or co-worker? Do you have any of these same fears? I don’t believe I am alone.

What happens if I take a risk and speak to just one person who thinks differently about America? Can I listen without judgment? Can I move beyond my own mindset? Can I stay calm and respond thoughtfully, waiting to react until I consider what has been shared? Am I really interested in learning an opposing view? What can I learn from those I do not understand?

The honest question I ask myself? Do I really want to know an opposing point of view? Where does my rigidity come from? How can I build consensus with a family member, neighbor or friend who thinks differently about America? How do I stay calm and just listen? I want to respond rather than react. This takes skills I sometimes do not possess.

I know there is a difference between doing something and being something. I want to be willing to get out of my own way, my own mindset. I want to listen to a different point of view until I understand it, whether or not in the end I agree with it. If I can truly be curious and listen without trying to impose my own views, I am closer to being the change agent needed to create compromise. Doing is initiating a conversation. Staying grounded, listening, trying to understand, and building common ground – this is being a change agent. The question starts with me, how can I be the change agent? The doing part is so much easier than the being part.

How do I build common ground? Conversations about sports, music, performers, movies, shows on Netflix, Apple TV+, HBO, Showtime, comedies, gardening, home-improvement projects, travel, books, faith, life journeys, children. It really is a long list when I give it some thought.

I know I have more in common with people I don’t understand than whatever issue it is that divides us. If democracy is to flourish, we must find common ground and on it build a stronger America. If not, our “silos of thought” may destroy us from within.

An Invitation to Self-exploration

Questions to ponder…

Do I actually listen?

Can I surrender the need to be right?

Do I truly listen without judgment?

What tools/strategies help me remain calm and respond thoughtfully?

Do I use these tools? Could I use them more frequently?

What possibility for good exists when I’m willing to learn about opposing views or find common ground?

Ready for other topics of self-exploration?

You may find this post of interest:
I’m Still Learning – Expanded Thoughts – It includes my expanded thoughts from an article originally posted on Chip Conley’s Wisdom Well; the blog for The Modern Elder Academy.

If you wish to further a discussion about your own process of aging, you are welcome to be in touch:  Contact Page

A special and very heart-felt note of appreciation to Chip Conley of The Modern Elder Academy for inviting me to share  an excerpt of this post on his Wisdom Well blog. Spending much of his time at MEA retreat center in Todo Santos, Mexico, Chip is an entrepreneur and advocate for the value of wisdom that comes with age. He is an American hotelier, foundation builder, grant maker, author and speaker, who is also on the board of Burning Man. 

Rocky Blumhagen is a Stanford University DCI (Distinguished Careers Institute) Fellow/partner Class of ’19 and a yoga teacher and mindfulness practitioner. To read more about Rocky – Click Here

Read more of Rocky’s posts on Chip Conely’s Wisdom Well blog.