Get Out Of Your Bubble and Listen

Caitlin Conant ’08
Executive Director of Communications at CBS News for DC Bureau and Face the Nation

As students at Notre Dame, we spent our days memorizing facts and learning truths about the world that would help us succeed and be good stewards when we left the Golden Dome behind.
Lately, however, the line between fact and fiction has blurred. Americans across the country can choose their own news, consuming only what they want to believe and reinforcing their own worldview as the right one. The conclusions they draw about those who hold a different view are far harsher. Those who disagree don’t simply have a different view; they are flawed.
I have no doubt that my resume alone would draw the ire of many across the country since I have worked for two of our nation’s most unpopular institutions—I spent the first eight years of my career working on Capitol Hill and political campaigns, and since have joined the ranks of the media. I am a Congress-hating, media-bashing Twitter troll’s dream.
Although we have more ways to communicate and speak our minds now than ever before, our level of discourse has taken a turn for the worse.
Too often as we text, tweet, Snapchat, and Instagram our each and every feeling to our circle of friends and followers, we’re diving further into our bubble, talking past each other in a search for likes and instant gratification. This encourages us to be flip, cynical, and cruel.
Rather than spending every moment glued to our phones, communicating heads-down, thumbs-up, and living in an echo chamber, all of us should take a deep breath, unplug, and start listening.
It sounds simple, but listening is an art. I once heard Charlie Rose say that listening is the sign of a great interviewer because it’s easier to stick to your prepared questions than to have to adjust and deviate from the script. It’s easy to block out the noise and only hear what we want to. It’s even easier to steadfastly stick to your opinion without trying to see where the other side is coming from.
The culture in Washington, D.C. can oftentimes be the worst offender of elitism and one-sized-fits all solutions that do not take into account how they will affect the everyday lives of Americans. But the best legislation comes when politicians listen to their constituents, whether talking with recovering addicts or those who cannot afford prescriptions they need to stay alive. By actually listening to their constituents and learning from their struggles, politicians in Washington can change lives by standing up for people, not partisan politics.
The media also tends to get caught up in the narrative of the day, making sweeping predictions about the mood of the country. But by going into the field and talking to average Americans about the issues they care about, the Washington media often learns something that turns the conventional wisdom on its head. John Dickerson, the host of CBS News’ Face the Nation, recently traveled to Richmond, Virginia to hear from residents and get their thoughts on President Trump’s first month in office. Their opinions were mixed—a Democrat who is scared of President Trump but loves his immigration policy and a Trump voter who thinks he should get off Twitter—but the conversation was polite and respectful, and it helped enlighten our viewers to how people really felt about the state of the union.  
So while today’s harsh partisanship might seem like a daunting challenge to overcome, we can all start the process by shutting our mouths and opening our eyes and ears to those around us. Watch MSNBC instead of Fox News once in awhile. Volunteer on a side of town you normally steer clear of. Sit next to that relative who drives you crazy at dinner. Chat with the coworker with the atrocious Facebook rants. And here’s to hoping that by exercising some restraint and hearing people out, we can all work together to strengthen the rules of civility once again.

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