Just because of the title, you’re probably already mad at me. And I get it. I would have been mad at me too. But I’m a different person now. And maybe, if you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt and read without choosing your reaction in advance, you might find my thoughts helpful. I should warn you, how you respond to this article may very well prove me correct.
Backstory. I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh and watched a lot of Fox News. When I was finishing up my Bible/Theology degree, I would often listen to Sean Hannity on the way home, Mark Levin and whomever else would be on when I was in the car.
Then we’d have Fox News on in the house before I left and often time before bed. If there wasn’t anything else on we wanted to watch we’d watch Hannity, Greta, and (in my opinion) the worst contributors to the problem I’m speaking of today, Tucker Carlson.
Why was I listening? Because I wanted to hear a different viewpoint from the mainstream media who all seem to not only say the same thing but pretty much share the exact same stories. I live in the Pacific Northwest, so I’m surrounded by one sided arguments. And I wanted to know “the other side”. That, and I grew up and tend to agree with “the other side” on a lot (but definitely not all) of the issues.
Starting to change: A few years ago, I (and my wife) noticed the effect listening to Rush was having on me. I’ll never forget getting into a car to go to lunch with someone from the church and they asked if I liked Rush. I said, yeah, listen all the time. Only to be disappointed by the fact that what they mean was the band and not the angry talk radio show. Go ahead and laugh at me. I deserved it.
But, probably 4-5 years ago, I noticed it was making me more negative. At that time, I was really working hard to become a more positive person. Still am. So, I decided to cut it out, cold turkey.
We had also cut out most of Fox News, except on election day. All except for OutNumbered. Which I watched most mornings. Then this blessed thing happened. I wanted cut back our dish bill before we were going to be gone for a few weeks, and other than Fox News, we didn’t watch any of the channels in that bundle. So, I turned it off. And haven’t turned it back on.
The why: The way God wired our brains is information we should really know. We have what are called “mirror neurons.” According to NCBI
These are a variety of visuospatial neurons which indicate fundamentally about human social interaction. Essentially, mirror neurons respond to actions that we observe in others. The interesting part is that mirror neurons fire in the same way when we actually recreate that action ourselves. Apart from imitation, they are responsible for myriad of other sophisticated human behavior and thought processes.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3510904/)
In other words, these are incredibly important parts of our brains. They are responsible for feeling empathy for those around us. They are responsible for so much of our interactions.
How are our mirror neurons shaped? By our input and influences in our lives. Mostly by other humans. We literally become like the people we spend time with, the people we listen to and the information we take in. It all affects us, not only on an ideological level, but on a much deeper formational level.
What had happened to me was, I had become like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Mark Levin. I was consuming enough content of people who were always angry about something, and I was becoming more and more angry. Not only that, but it was affecting how I interacted with others and worse how I thought about people in pain and suffering. It had rewired how empathy worked in my brain.
PAUSE: I’m aware there are probably some reading this post who may never listen to Conservative news or radio. But don’t be fooled. This is the air we breath. It doesn’t matter what “side of the aisle” you are on, nearly every news site and agency, every politically driven resources is driven by anger against the people who think differently than they do and are trying to undermine “their country”. (At the writing of this post there is a big story circulating about Ellen Degeneres & former president George W. Bush sitting together at a football game. The photo caused an uproar from Ellen supporters who wanted to know why she was sitting next to the enemy. Her response was perfect, a tremendously good response that so many need to hear today.)
Carrying on: So, I’ve been pretty much news free for the last 3-4 months. I still watch some local news, but my tolerance for that is decreasing. It’s all negative, all bad news, all problems and no solutions. Very few stories about good things. I like to watch the weather.
The Problem: Because of how God wired our brains to work, I was literally becoming like those angry sources. My brain was mirroring what I had been feeding it. What’s scary is that, even the way I saw the world around me had been shaped by these angry sources. It came up in conversations. This can affect the way we see loved ones, neighbors and it can even affect our view of God.
The solution: Stop listening to mad people. I believe, with my whole mind and heart, that the reason our country is in a rage right now is because there are too many influencers who are in a rage. And we love them. The negativity actually feeds something in our brain and we can become addicted to it, and then it shapes the way our brain organizes information.
The Echo Chamber: Much has been said about the echo chamber. (Read “Christians in the Age of Outrage” by Ed Stetzer.) Because we can tailor our new preferences to our preconceived beliefs, we are simply getting more entrenched in our opposing viewpoints instead of looking for ways to cooperate with people. All you have to do is look at the political climate and see that nearly no one in politics has a desire to work together for the common good, and instead are simply fighting for their own positions. There are some, but they seem to be the exception not the standard.
Then, we the people, subscribe to all their feeds and let them continue to fill our minds and shape our viewpoints to be more and more in line with their negative, pessimistic, angry at the opposition viewpoint. So, we end up hating one another more deeply.
The Sad Truth: Too many of us are being manipulated without our knowledge. We don’t realize how this is and has affected us. As conspiracy theorist as it sounds, I do believe the media giants know what they’re doing. They have invested billions in research. They make bank off of our fears. The problem, we are the victims. And too many of us mindlessly go along with their scheme. We’re addicted to their content, regardless of what it’s doing to us…regardless of how it’s affecting our view of others…regardless of how it’s destroying our country.
The solution: TURN IT OFF! Stop listening to people who are angry all the time. Stop watching people who yell all the time. Unfollow those Facebook pages that are always spewing hatred for the opposition. The more you consume, the more it changes the way you think. The more you let these sources change your brain, the less likely any of us will be to seek unity in our time. Neither President Trump nor Joe Biden are the answer for the divide in our country. We are. But only if we stop allowing these divisive forces to manipulate us to fight against one another.
The counterargument: “But, I need to know how to vote. I need to be informed on the issues.” Bull Crap. Most of us already know where we stand on issues. Most of us are already cemented in the way we’re going to vote. You don’t need to listen to someone yelling in a rage something you already agree with.
It’s not too late: We’re already in another election cycle. We’ve already had presidential debates and the 24 hours news machines churning out unparalleled amounts of massively opposed content. If we aren’t mindful about it, we’ll let them drive us into deeper levels of hatred and division.
But, we can decide not to let ourselves be victims and pawns in the manipulative profiteering schemes of major corporations who care nothing for us as people except to get us to beef up their bottom line. We are being taken advantage of as a society. We are being used. These corporations aren’t on our side, they’re on the side of their profits. They’re on the side of whatever benefits the shareholders. The only reason they are in business is because we buy their services. We subscribe to their channels. We follow them on Facebook. We share their content.
What if we all just stopped? What if we just started unfollowing, unliking, unsubscribing from their feeds? What if, instead of going out to look for more reasons to hate the people I disagree with, we invited them over for dinner and got to know them as fellow humans? What if, instead of being offended because some talking head told us we should be, we got offended at the fact that the talking heads have been using us to get rich? What if we got offended at the fact that we’ve been manipulated to hate our fellow citizens? What if we stopped sharing posts about how this/that politician is the devil, we started sharing posts about the good any civil leader is doing.
What if, instead of always looking for what’s wrong with the world, what’s wrong with the other side and what’s wrong the “opposing” side – what if we just started looking for ways to support one another, encourage one another, stand alongside one another?
What if we stopped taking sides and walked alongside each other in humility?