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Research issues, not opinions

By Dustin Swanger

As I am sure we are all aware, our country is very polarized. We are polarized politically, socially, economically and, to a large extent, culturally. There are numerous factors that are contributing to this polarization, not the least of which is the leadership of our political parties. Rather than searching for solutions, the political parties fight to assure that the other party wins nothing. It is a strategy to further divide the country in an attempt to win votes from the far left or far right. Ultimately, we all lose.

Another factor that polarizes our country is social media. It is so easy to align ourselves on-line with only people who share the same opinions that we do. It is also easy to dismiss — or attack — those who do not believe as we do because we can do it with a certain amount of anonymity. We don’t have to see them or hear their arguments. We can attack and click away to another site. Hearing only opinions that are similar to our own will further polarize the nation and, frankly, create a race to the bottom.

Yet another factor in our polarization is how we “research” the topics we might want to explore. So many do not research an issue; rather, they research their opinion. That is, instead of trying to find data, information, explanations, history, etc. about a topic, some try to find the data, information, etc. that only supports how they feel about the topic.

In college, like Fulton-Montgomery Community College, we work to teach students how to research a topic or an issue; to find information about the pros and cons. The history as told by people from several sides of the issue; to explore the data that both supports or refutes an argument regarding a current event. We may even ask a student to research and argue the exact opposite side of what they believe in order to gain an understanding of the counter arguments. We believe that only by teaching students to research the entire issue can they come to an informed opinion.

When we research our opinion, we are only gathering data that supports how we feel, or what we already think, about a topic. That approach drives us deeper into our opinion and works to solidify our beliefs. It tends to push us into a stronger stance on what we believe. It causes us to “dig in our heels.” It drives us further away from listening to others’ opinions. It widens the divide in our country.

If we wish to make America great again, then we will need to make informed decisions where we understand both, or all, sides of an issue. We need to analyze data that supports and refutes our opinions and then decide if our opinion was valid or based on falsehoods. We will need to research the issue, so that we can understand how others might have a different opinion, even if we disagree with it. We need to respect how they reached their conclusions and to have a civil conversation about the facts and how we interpret them. We need to again value truth, science and rational discussion.

As we begin the election cycle for our next president (which is far too long of a cycle) the rhetoric will increase. Take care to research the issue, not your opinion. You just may be surprised at what you find.