The old saying goes something like this: Never talk about politics or religion with strangers; it’s not polite. Tennesseans largely seem to follow that advice, don’t we? Whether it is a part of Southern culture or something more unique to our state, I don’t often hear these topics at my local coffee shop. Breakfast at the local Hardee’s with the guys might get a little closer to breaking this rule, but I would guess that sports is the root of most of the wisecracks.
Yet, it seems like the voices we indirectly hear don’t mind talking about politics to us. It used to come from the local newspaper and three television networks. Where I grew up, there was a morning paper and an afternoon paper. While each tended to have a different slant on the editorial page, the coverage of basic news was generally presented for the purpose of relaying information.
Today, there are countless media that exist to relay information. For instance, on the day I penned this column, I counted 12 different ways I consumed political opinion without even trying to — among them were in-person conversation, cable news networks, newspapers (print and internet-based), email, local radio, satellite radio, websites, a podcast, app notifications on my phone and social media outlets.
Almost all of these are following the same playbook, however. Instead of presenting information to inform you about the happenings of the day, informing you about the happenings of the day is used to present information. See how the order is reversed?
Why is that? The answer lies in human nature. We generally feel more comfortable hearing bad news from someone we trust. We trust a friend but doubt our enemy. So when a news outlet focuses exclusively on bad news or sensational stories, it is more appealing to our nature. And reporting an opinion about current events that aligns with someone’s preconceived notions or political beliefs might just cause them to trust that outlet more than the competition.
Unfortunately, the manner in which the information is presented has turned into the primary method to influence your opinion or reinforce your beliefs. The presentation of news has become a way to divide and differentiate customers rather than inform and educate the public.
There are exceptions to these trends in the media. The Tennessee Magazine exists to celebrate the people, places and things that make our great state special. Tennessee’s electric cooperatives have published this magazine since September 1958, and we are proud to bring you stories that warm your heart and relevant information to warm your home.
For an insightful and thought-provoking discussion about current events, try listening to the podcast “You Might Be Right.” Hosted by former Tennessee Govs. Bill Haslam and Phil Bredesen, each episode includes asking guests to give an example of a time they realized that the “other” point of view was correct.
Lastly and more importantly, maybe it is time to ditch the old advice and have a conversation about politics with a stranger. Attend an event with your county commissioner, school board member or state legislator and introduce yourself. Ask about the specific ways they have an obligation to serve the public and how they intend to make a difference in their roles. Leave the opinions about former or future presidents for another day, and focus on what’s happening in your community. You might find a breath of fresh air.