Americans are at odds with themselves, not just across political lines, but within their own systems of belief. That tension won’t easily clear until individuals stop to ask, “Why are we doing what we’re doing?”
It’s a powerful but simple question. A CEO observing falling profits, for instance, won’t hesitate to question why an ailing subsidiary should continue to lose money. A farmer with failing crops will examine what variable to change rather than persisting in a losing strategy.
Individual Americans would benefit from asking it more of themselves.
A WSJ/NBC poll released Friday found Americans hold negative views of social media. Clear majorities believe Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like are a waste of time, that they spread lies and unfair attacks, and that they divide the country.
Yet, nearly 70 percent of Americans report using social media each day.
In a similar vein, national news analysts and talk show commentators would have the nation believe politics, parties and winning elections is what matters most to U.S. citizens.
The data, however, are clear: Americans don’t define themselves by their politics — not even close. When provided a list of 14 items with which people may identify themselves, 47 percent of respondents had their children among the top three choices and 40 percent picked “American,” according to a Scott Rasmussen poll, released Thursday. Additionally, 37 percent included their faith as a top pick.
A scant 7 percent included their political affiliation, and only 1 percent named politics as their top defining attribute.
Those numbers are consistent with the results of the 2018 Deseret News American Family Survey, which found respondents define themselves first as a parent or spouse, then as a member of their religion and their community. Political party fell near the bottom of the list.
In both instances — social media use and self-identification — actions don’t align with beliefs. It’s worth asking why.
In the case of technology, it comes as no shock phones and apps are addicting, especially when Silicon Valley insiders admit to making them that way. The compulsive nature of the medium brings users back, sometimes against their better judgement.
A simple solution to align technology use with beliefs is to disconnect for one hour a day, one day a week and one week a year. Stepping away, even momentarily, quickly brings answers to the question, “Why are we doing what we are doing?”
A similar force might be at play when it comes to Americans’ identity. While the political arena wasn’t designed to be addicting, it nevertheless attracts those who feel compelled to defend their tribe.
Aligning the perceived importance of politics with Americans’ true identity — centered in family, faith and country — requires stepping outside personal bubbles, engaging with people who disagree, avoiding instant certainty and simply listening.
Asking, “Why are we doing what we’re doing?” would bring positive change to a host of issues. It would help commentators see the nation as so much more than political parties, aid individuals in stepping away from wasteful distractions and unearth conversations about the values Americans admire most.