The call for civility, but not in my echo chamber

We’ve all heard of the phrase “Not in my backyard” (also known as NIMBY). Most often the examples look something like this:

“Do you agree with walking paths in our community?” Yes.

“Can we put it next to your property?” No. I don’t want people walking by my backyard.

I can’t help but notice this concept applies to the call for civil discourse today. We all want “they” and “them” to work across the aisle and find collaborative solutions, yet we are unwilling to take that risk ourselves.

Instead, we walk through each day hearing messages that amplify and reinforce our views. This echo chamber precludes us from cultivating the very thing we want to see in leaders. Here, see if this is familiar:

“Are you frustrated by politics today?” Yes.

“Should leaders listen to multiple viewpoints on a single issue in order to make an informed decision?” Absolutely.

“Do you seek out the opinions of people who disagree with you?” No. Those people are crazy.

I’ll be the first to admit, crossing the invisible boundaries of political views and beliefs is not for the faint of heart.

I live in Wyoming (red state) and own a gun (right-wing stereotype…6.5 Creedmoor, if you’re curious). I spend every weekend in the summer rock climbing and mountain biking (usually with hippie-liberal types). In the winter those weekends are spent on a Polaris RMK-Pro 850 snowmobile (usually with red-neck-conservative types).

As you can imagine, my conversations over a beer (let alone my social media feeds) have been all over the map in 2020. If coronavirus and COVID-19 strained the tolerance of these groups toward each other, the Black Lives Matter movement broke it.

On the same day I had two friends share these posts on social media:

1) Do not ever vote conservative. Protect BLM, save lives.

2) In rural America we don’t talk about how we will protect ourselves. We talk about which gun we’ll grab first.

These two well-meaning individuals love their families, friends and community. I can even picture them enjoying a conversation over a beer as their young kids share toy trucks and play Disney princesses. Instead, a much more likely scenario is that both individuals will continue to exist exclusively in circles that magnify the rhetoric of their own echo chamber.

The “not in my echo chamber” cycle means we all lose. We spend so much time fighting that we forget how many of our values and interests overlap with someone who marks a different box on the ballot. We vow to “never forgive” family members who voted to protect one piece of their life (be that trans rights or firearms) because we hold a different view.

So, who’s going to fix it? It won’t be national politicians, corporations or the media. It is easy to look to these leaders because they are visible, but they all stand to benefit from the division such rhetoric ignites and sustains.

Ultimately, we as neighbors, friends, family members and communities must take the painful first step toward civility. As with NIMBY, we have to be willing to allow the community walking path to come next to our property.

5 ways to release the vapor lock on your echo chamber

1. Call a friend with differing political views. Have them explain what is important and do not disagree or defend your perspective. Listen with the goal of understanding their views and ask questions if you don’t understand.

2. Join a community organization such as Rotary, Toastmasters or the Chamber of Commerce. When you attend events, sit (or stand 6 feet away with a mask) next to the person who is the least like you. Ask them honest questions and learn to trust them as a person before you judge their values.

3. Read a book or listen to a podcast of differing views. Every time you hear something you disagree with, squelch the fit of rage and instead say out loud, “Hmmm, that’s interesting.”

4. Complete a random act of kindness for a stranger who fits the stereotypes you generally detest. For example, offer a friendly wave from your Subaru at that lifted truck with the Trump 2020 sticker. Or, stick your hand out the window of your diesel pickup and cheer on the road biker…being sure to use all of your fingers.

5. Look around your board room and backyard barbecue and take note if everyone agrees on most topics. If so, congratulations, you’ve sufficiently wasted everyone’s time discussing them. Seek out dialogue that leaves room for multiple views and doesn’t rely on ultimatums for affect.

In the words of a leader who understands human nature better than most, “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

— Winnie the Pooh

Mandy Fabel is a Wyoming resident passionate about challenging stereotypes and pushing herself and others to be the best version of themselves. She currently serves as the executive director of Leadership Wyoming and the co-founder of the YouTube channel Granola & Gasoline.

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