Hard Choice Habit of political news — Information or Affirmation

Today our nation exercises our right to vote by heading to the polls to select the women and men who will govern our nation. A majority of Americans believe our political system would be better if it was bi-partisan. The American people conceptually understand that a democratic government works better when parties compromise with one another to in-act laws to improve the lives of its citizens. When asked, the American people will say the right thing. However, in the privacy of their own home, after a long day at work, the American people act like a moth to a flame.

Our behavior sends a clear message. When it comes to politics, we prefer affirmation to information. We say we watch news to understand current events of the day, but the reality is that we watch the news to support our own political views. We feel good when we hear data points that support our beliefs. We like to hear how bad the other group is doing, and how good our group is doing. Quite often the “truth” is politically arranged, by leaving out key facts that could balance the story.

The sad thing is that the American people know they’re being manipulated. Only one-third of Americans trust the American media, meaning that much of our society understands at some level that the media is using tactics that play to our emotional brain. The affirmation from the news feels like a drug. The images, sounds, and messages that affirm our own beliefs dispense positive chemicals to our brain. When we hear the sweet sound of how bad the other guys are, we are rewarded at the most basic level — our neurons. Even while we know we are being manipulated (by both liberal and conservative news outlets), we just can’t switch from CNN to FOX, or from FOX to CNN.

Why can’t we get off the ride? We consume what feels good and this makes it hard to change the channel. It is hard to listen to information that makes you feel unsettled. It is hard to consider new information that could possibly challenge long-held beliefs. It is hard to hear the other perspective because those points might be just as good, if not better than your currently held views. It is hard to manage the emotions that are created from hotly contested points of view, that are in opposition to your own.

What if you decided to do the hard thing, and consume a wide array of news? I am not asking you to quit your news addiction cold-turkey. How about some balance? What if you purposely decided to watch “the other guy” on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s. What if you decided to read not watch your news? Or what if you used a website like “Allsides” that openly designates the political leaning of the source. (left, center, right)

We all complain (myself included) that our government is broken. We want more done. We want government to drive positive change. We say we want bi-partisan politics, but we behave differently. Politicians say they want to “reach across the aisle”, but their behaviors mirror those of the people they represent. The reality is that our politicians are just responding to our behaviors. In the last 2 years Congress has passed fewer laws and voted along party lines more than any time in the history of our nation. We elect new politicians because we want to change things up, but what are you doing to change things? What are you doing to send a new message to the people that represent you? You want a new direction, but you take the easy path by daily affirming your own beliefs.

Do the hard thing — choose information over affirmation.