Editorial: Listen up! Your civic duty is not done

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Hold on a minute. You’re not done.

Election Day is usually the sum and substance of civic engagement. Whether you consider it duty or privilege, whether you partake or not, casting a voting usually represents the end of the process.

Usually.

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As has been noted ad nauseum during the past 18 months, this has not been an ordinary election cycle. The level of, or better yet the lack of, discourse has reached pandemic proportions. And, to be clear, both sides — left and right, Blue and Red, Democrat and Republican — deserve blame.

Candidates are no longer those we disagree with, they’re deemed illegitimate. So too are their supporters. So unable are we to see the other side that we stand perilously close to losing the very thing that should unite us all, the idea that is the United States of America: one nation.

It is in this vein that we urge citizens to put aside their election fatigue and get on with the matter at hand, repairing our broken republic.

There are a number of underlying issues that have conspired to lead us to this point. The changing nature of the economy, the effects of globalization and growing income inequality are just a few.

Media is responsible, as well, as we pointed out in March:

“There exists a shockingly straight line between media, especially digital media, and divisiveness.

“Where once communities were defined by geography alone, digital media allows an unlimited number of communities to arise and affords the freedom to become members of any number of them.

“At this point, group polarization is a near certainty.

“(Group polarization ‘arises when members of a deliberating group move toward a more extreme point in whatever direction is indicated by the members’ pre-deliberation tendency.’)

“Given enough stimulus and the ability and predisposition to easily became a member of community based on shared beliefs, divisiveness is the inevitable result.”

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We feel social media, as a subset of digital media, is particularly to blame. So freeing is the concept of everyone having a voice that we’ve missed the fact that no one is being heard. In a world where everyone can talk, fewer and fewer listen.

This is where you, dear citizen, come in.

We can begin to repair the damage when those on both sides who believe in moderation realize they have more in common with each other than with those on the fringes. If we unite under a shared sense of community and mission we can re-establish the idea and civic imperative of one nation.

And how do we do that? The answer is surprisingly simple.

James S. Fishkin and Robert C. Luskin pioneered the theory of deliberative democracy, which holds that people are less polarized when dissent is nurtured “in a group by encouraging the discussion of multiple perspectives and critical viewpoints.”

Translation: Get out and meet people. And talk with them.

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In a followup study, Finnish professor Marina Lindell wrote, “Deliberative democratic theory is much more open for the possibility that participants in deliberation may adopt more moderate views. Moderation is even seen as the ideal outcome by some scholars.

“Deliberation encourages open-mindedness in a context where people with diverse opinions meet and discuss. The participants are ready to relax strongly held views for the sake of achieving consensus. … Individuals with strong opinions may also become more uncertain and ambivalent when they interact with others and get to know the ‘other side’.”

The government can help play a role in convening the community in a way that breaks the cycle of confirmation bias and group polarization. Indeed, on the municipal level we’ve long advocated Worcester reconvene its community discussions to tackle issues surrounding race. Examples are here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

The votes have been cast and counted, a winner declared. The real work must now begin lest we risk continuing down this road until it reaches its inevitable dead end.

So go out, meet, talk and, most importantly, listen.

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