Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Does it feel like the entire country is in a bad mood? This week on Faculty 101, we explore the environment of angry rhetoric that seems to be in the driver’s seat. How does civility in public discourse impact democracy? And what can we do about it?
Rick & Jerry Talk about Life and other things… ›› http://ow.ly/ufLY30mtO9s
Heuermann Lecture: Bob Kerrey and Chuck Hagel ›› http://ow.ly/rFef30mtOan
Heuermann Lectures ›› https://heuermannlectures.unl.edu/
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[00:00:00.320]When I grow up?
[00:00:02.030]You can hear it on the talk shows, in the street,
[00:00:06.520]and on social media.
[00:00:09.400]It feels like the country is boiling over.
[00:00:14.700]The topic of civility in public discourse,
[00:00:17.250]or the lack of it, drew an overflow crowd
[00:00:20.170]to Nebraska Innovation Campus for the University
[00:00:22.670]of Nebraska-Lincoln's Heuermann Lecture.
[00:00:25.131](upbeat guitar music)
[00:00:26.330]And a very, very important topic
[00:00:28.650]around civil discourse, around coming together
[00:00:32.980]when we differ, and differing with dignity.
[00:00:37.438]The lecture featured two former U.S. senators
[00:00:40.390]for Nebraska, Bob Kerrey, and Chuck Hagel.
[00:00:43.290]In 1997, after Senator Hagel was elected
[00:00:46.370]to his first term, he recalls sitting down
[00:00:49.340]with his Democratic counterpart to talk about the issues.
[00:00:53.100]Bob was a Democrat, I was a Republican,
[00:00:55.030]but we didn't lose sight on why we were there.
[00:00:58.540]We were there to serve the interests
[00:01:01.910]of the people we represented.
[00:01:03.950]Civility is the glue that binds a society,
[00:01:08.950]and there's an absolutism that seeps
[00:01:11.060]into politics that is very dangerous,
[00:01:14.290]in that absolutism represents the absolutism of,
[00:01:18.950]I'm all right and my party is all right all the time,
[00:01:22.810]and you're all wrong all the time.
[00:01:25.580]Bob Kerrey says something else
[00:01:27.320]has changed since his time in the Senate.
[00:01:29.840]I don't think you can talk about civility
[00:01:31.510]without bringing in the ease with which you can use
[00:01:34.730]social media to terrify your opponent.
[00:01:38.150]Is civility gone for good?
[00:01:40.010]And what can we do about it?
[00:01:41.770]That's this edition of Faculty 101.
[00:01:44.416](upbeat synth music)
[00:01:45.249]Okay, you should switch partners now.
[00:01:46.920]To be able to inspire young people.
[00:01:49.760]A is your final.
[00:01:50.730]It's really rewarding.
[00:01:51.860]I love the students.
[00:01:53.840]Welcome to Faculty 101, life hacks
[00:01:56.870]and success stories from Nebraska faculty.
[00:02:02.262](upbeat jazz music)
[00:02:04.070]Welcome back to another episode
[00:02:05.460]of Jerry and Rick discuss life and other important topics.
[00:02:10.080]Jerry and Rick are Jerry Renaud
[00:02:11.910]and Rick Alloway, professors in the College
[00:02:14.000]of Journalism and Mass Communications.
[00:02:16.360]This fall, they're focusing a podcast series
[00:02:19.170]on the theme of civility.
[00:02:21.030]Jerry says he and Rick were talking about it anyway,
[00:02:23.940]long conversations in each others offices,
[00:02:26.680]and growing more concerned about what they were seeing.
[00:02:30.090]We finally decided that we needed to do something
[00:02:33.000]about it, and we'd talked about doing
[00:02:34.200]a podcast together for several years
[00:02:37.300]and had mentioned several topics,
[00:02:39.500]and this one seemed to be the logical one
[00:02:42.020]to be a starting point for us.
[00:02:43.835](upbeat jazz music)
[00:02:45.130]So thanks for being with us today.
[00:02:46.310]Great to be here, Jerry.
[00:02:47.880]Guests on the podcast include UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green.
[00:02:51.590]To me, civility is the ability to have a discussion
[00:02:55.740]about important things where there are
[00:02:58.830]multiple, different perspectives on those things,
[00:03:01.970]but to be able to do that in a way that is
[00:03:06.310]without fear, without animosity.
[00:03:12.256](mysterious synth music)
[00:03:15.900]Soon after that conversation, the country is rocked
[00:03:18.690]by news of pipe bombs and a mass shooting.
[00:03:21.800]Which makes me wonder, has it ever been this bad?
[00:03:24.818](mysterious piano and synth music)
[00:03:28.830]Bob Kerrey says yes.
[00:03:31.100]As bad as things are today,
[00:03:32.980]they have been unquestionably worse.
[00:03:35.200]The FBI counted 2,500 bombings on American soil
[00:03:39.280]during an 18-month period in 1971 and 1972, and--
[00:03:44.617]700,000 men died in the Civil War
[00:03:47.560]'cause we couldn't resolve the issue of slavery.
[00:03:50.000]It's been worse.
[00:03:51.130]Alexander Hamilton was shot and killed by Aaron Burr,
[00:03:54.870]and though I've got some candidates
[00:03:56.080]I'd like to line up in that environment,
[00:03:58.776](chuckles) we don't do that any more.
[00:04:01.600]But something does feel different
[00:04:03.680]about the atmosphere today.
[00:04:06.260]One factor is social media.
[00:04:08.630]Rick Allaway is active on social media sites, but--
[00:04:12.160]In terms of my own content that I post,
[00:04:15.110]I have tried desperately not to go political
[00:04:17.910]on anything that I have said, partly because I think
[00:04:20.960]in my role as a teacher but also as somebody who,
[00:04:23.430]I host the governor's call-in show every month,
[00:04:25.520]and my own personal views, I don't think
[00:04:27.980]they're of any interest to anybody.
[00:04:29.840]But I also don't want to be one of those people
[00:04:31.890]that somebody says, well, I saw him praising so-and-so
[00:04:36.460]and tearing somebody else apart, and so now I know
[00:04:38.580]how he's going to react in any particular situation.
[00:04:42.010]But how interesting it is that sometimes you make
[00:04:44.030]some very innocuous kinds of statements,
[00:04:46.750]and all of a sudden there are people that jump in
[00:04:48.830]and feel it's a political statement that you have made,
[00:04:51.810]and all of a sudden it's this long diatribe.
[00:04:54.050]Yeah, you can post a cat video and suddenly somebody goes,
[00:04:56.380]that's clearly a conservative cat.
Well, okay, fine.
[00:04:59.889](dramatic synth music)
[00:05:01.240]But some people feel, in this current situation,
[00:05:04.650]this current setting that we're in,
[00:05:06.430]that they almost have to respond.
[00:05:09.430]I've read my share of posts, I know you have as well,
[00:05:11.860]of friends of ours who've said, I just can't keep silent
[00:05:14.030]any longer, I just gotta speak up,
[00:05:16.040]this is beyond the pale, on either side.
[00:05:18.940]And so it is challenging.
[00:05:21.350]It's forcing people to sort of draw a line in the sand,
[00:05:24.470]perhaps even when they don't want to.
[00:05:26.050]And it's unfortunate because it could be
[00:05:28.160]a real interesting discussion,
[00:05:29.800]if people could just keep it at a civil level.
[00:05:33.758](dramatic orchestral music)
[00:05:36.930]As professors, both Jerry and Rick understand
[00:05:39.950]the frustration with news media.
[00:05:41.887](upbeat synth music)
[00:05:44.020]They agree the hotly competitive, 24/7 media environment
[00:05:47.970]bears responsibility for some of the vitriol.
[00:05:51.100]But they also believe journalists are unfairly targeted.
[00:05:55.920]We're not looking at this from saying the media
[00:05:57.730]are totally blameless in this situation.
[00:05:59.660]We are more than willing to say,
[00:06:01.710]look, let's look at our own examples
[00:06:03.260]of where we feel reporting has become too much opinion,
[00:06:07.170]and where there are areas that we think journalism
[00:06:11.280]does hold some responsibility for this role in civility.
[00:06:14.140]Because it is all of us.
[00:06:15.780]But we also will put our flag in the sand
[00:06:19.670]when we think we've been wronged as an industry as well,
[00:06:22.430]partly because, both of us having worked here
[00:06:24.730]for three decades, we have too many students
[00:06:28.530]who've come through this program, who we have trained,
[00:06:30.510]and we have sent out into the industry.
[00:06:31.860]We know them personally, and we know the standards
[00:06:34.930]that they have and what they're trying to do.
[00:06:37.150]We're trying to encourage them and influence them
[00:06:39.980]to cover stories from all angles,
[00:06:43.850]to make sure that they tell the truth,
[00:06:45.760]to make sure that they respect people
[00:06:47.430]when they're out and doing interviews.
[00:06:49.550]I mean, those are the kinds of things we want them to learn.
[00:06:51.835]Why aren't you brave enough to--
[00:06:53.537]A lack of civility in communication reflects
[00:06:56.120]a willingness to abandon codes of behavior.
[00:06:59.270]Dawn Braithwaite, Chair of the UNL Department
[00:07:01.730]of Communication Studies, says social media
[00:07:04.280]helps feed the outrage machine.
[00:07:06.934](droning synth music)
[00:07:09.130]I think it is more uncivil, and I think it's this idea
[00:07:12.460]that people are somehow bound to say
[00:07:14.720]everything that's on their minds.
[00:07:16.370]Now, they often don't do that face-to-face,
[00:07:18.310]but they'll do things in social media or texting
[00:07:20.930]or other things that they would never do face-to-face.
[00:07:25.380]Social media also lends itself to extreme rhetoric
[00:07:28.540]that may not even reflect our true beliefs,
[00:07:30.710]according to Aaron Duncan, Professor of Communication
[00:07:33.440]and coach of UNL's debate team.
[00:07:35.430]Dr. Duncan says we get caught up
[00:07:37.340]in the toxic environment and cross the line.
[00:07:40.440]One of the things I talk about in my class
[00:07:42.710]is the difference between extremist rhetoric and extreme.
[00:07:45.980]Extremist rhetoric is the rhetoric of true believers,
[00:07:48.510]you know, people that really are
[00:07:50.170]on the far end of the political spectrum.
[00:07:53.430]But increasingly, we adopt extreme rhetoric,
[00:07:56.240]which sounds the same, but it's
[00:07:57.970]not that we really believe it.
[00:07:59.610]Do I really think that people out there who'd compare
[00:08:03.950]people on the right or left to Nazis really think that?
[00:08:08.120]No, I absolutely don't.
[00:08:10.750]But that is an easy way to succeed
[00:08:13.460]in our current political environment,
[00:08:14.680]and part of that is social media allows for it.
[00:08:17.390]I just create a meme.
[00:08:18.770]I slap my opponent's face on the picture of Adolph Hitler
[00:08:22.490]or on somebody else that I don't like.
[00:08:24.820]And of course, when you can hide behind anonymity
[00:08:28.170]and deal with people that you don't
[00:08:29.560]have personal relationships with,
[00:08:31.320]a lot of the interpersonal safeguards that would prevent us,
[00:08:34.940]even if we thought these things,
[00:08:36.320]from saying them aren't present on the internet.
[00:08:38.607](dramatic orchestral music)
[00:08:42.350]The tribal nature of today's politics
[00:08:46.380]We are locked in an echo chamber,
[00:08:48.430]where everyone sounds the same.
[00:08:52.450]Over time, we start to think the angry discourse is normal.
[00:08:56.310]Dr. Duncan worries
[00:08:57.570]about the long-term consequences for democracy.
[00:09:01.060]People gravitate to one of the poles,
[00:09:03.930]and they only surround themselves
[00:09:06.370]with these other people and they demonize
[00:09:07.990]the other side, and that has real problems
[00:09:09.730]'cause it makes compromise impossible.
[00:09:12.860]After the things that Democrats and Republicans
[00:09:14.960]have said to each other, how can they come together
[00:09:17.850]on any sort of policy on immigration, for example?
[00:09:22.200]And it'd be perceived as not one side winning,
[00:09:24.510]the other side losing?
[00:09:25.740]That's the concern about compromise becoming impossible,
[00:09:30.460]government grinding to a halt, and that further exacerbates
[00:09:33.440]voters' concerns that the whole system is broken.
[00:09:36.630]And what's the point in voting if no matter
[00:09:39.150]who you vote for, nothing ever gets solved?
[00:09:41.690]The other concern is that voters in the middle drop out.
[00:09:45.270]They look at these two extremes,
[00:09:46.780]and they go, I can't support this person.
[00:09:48.970]I can't support this.
[00:09:49.803]I don't know where to turn for the truth.
[00:09:52.440]There's so much discussion of what's
[00:09:53.830]real and factual information,
[00:09:55.890]and the easiest thing is to drop out.
[00:09:58.420]How can we stay true to our beliefs
[00:10:00.660]and opinions, and respect others?
[00:10:03.130]First of all, Bob Kerrey recommends seeking out
[00:10:05.870]other voices and an arena outside of social media sites.
[00:10:10.440]Find a refuge that isn't, where you're not on Instagram,
[00:10:13.650]where you're not on Twitter, where you're not
[00:10:15.370]on Facebook, where you're not on those social.
[00:10:18.360]Yes, they're wonderful assets, you can do wonderful things,
[00:10:21.290]but try to find a humane refuge
[00:10:24.200]that makes you feel good about mankind.
[00:10:26.650]Second, recognize that you may not be able to change
[00:10:29.900]someone's mind, especially with a post on Facebook.
[00:10:33.550]Dr. Duncan teaches a class in persuasion.
[00:10:36.770]The first thing I always tell people is the first rule
[00:10:38.910]of persuasion is, all persuasion is self-persuasion.
[00:10:42.710]I can't force you to believe differently.
[00:10:45.710]If you're a diehard Clinton supporter
[00:10:47.650]and I'm a diehard Trump supporter,
[00:10:50.020]and you're just not even open to the possibility
[00:10:51.930]of persuasion, or I'm not open to the possibility,
[00:10:54.540]I'm never going to be able to change you for that,
[00:10:57.610]no matter how good my evidence is,
[00:10:59.170]no matter how logical my arguments, no matter what happens.
[00:11:02.540]There's a certain portion of voters
[00:11:05.270]that are locked into those positions
[00:11:07.520]and will selectively expose or retain or discredit
[00:11:12.050]information that they're showing to you.
[00:11:14.130]Increasingly what we find in persuasion is what you have
[00:11:16.610]to do is frame issues correctly and nudge people.
[00:11:20.320]For example, telling teenagers to quit smoking
[00:11:23.060]for health reasons is not effective,
[00:11:25.560]but a campaign that linked smoking
[00:11:27.510]to wrinkles was more successful.
[00:11:30.070]Smoking causes wrinkles that age you prematurely.
[00:11:32.980]What are cigarettes costing you?
[00:11:34.600]No one wants to be pushed.
[00:11:37.040]Use these frames and things to nudge
[00:11:38.880]people in different directions.
[00:11:40.440]So one of the things that I always tell people
[00:11:42.030]on social media is, when I post an article
[00:11:45.070]or when I post something that I think makes
[00:11:47.110]a really good point in favor of a view that I support,
[00:11:50.010]I don't include any preface or epilogue to it,
[00:11:55.100]other than I'll sometimes say like,
[00:11:56.147]"Oh, interesting read," or, "I hadn't thought of this."
[00:11:59.010]And my point is I want you
[00:12:01.260]to read this and then think, okay.
[00:12:04.070]Hopefully the information leads you,
[00:12:06.090]and that's kind of an Aristotelian syllogism,
[00:12:08.880]that's Aristotle's belief that by not providing
[00:12:12.100]the conclusion for people, you're more likely
[00:12:14.670]to actually get them to reach the conclusion that you want.
[00:12:17.620]Finally, Dr. Braithwaite tells students
[00:12:19.870]to always remember that words matter,
[00:12:22.520]even if it's just a comment on a Twitter post.
[00:12:25.700]One of the things about communication
[00:12:27.080]that's important to realize, one of the axioms
[00:12:29.570]is that communication is irreversible and unrepeatable.
[00:12:32.810]You can't say I take it back.
[00:12:34.830]You can, I mean, you can apologize for your communication,
[00:12:37.830]but you can't take it back, and electronic media
[00:12:40.970]makes that even more true 'cause it won't go away,
[00:12:44.920]even if you want to take it back.
[00:12:46.760]When it comes to news, Jerry Renaud encourages
[00:12:49.500]healthy skepticism and a willingness to listen.
[00:12:52.460]Jerry and Rick's podcast is designed
[00:12:54.730]to spark civil conversation.
[00:12:57.020]I have lots of friends who are conservative.
[00:13:00.080]I have lots of friends who are liberal.
[00:13:01.550]And all of those people can get together
[00:13:04.180]in a room together and have dinner.
[00:13:07.080]And it can be wonderful, intellectual,
[00:13:09.840]academic conversation, and that's
[00:13:11.730]what I wish we could have more of.
[00:13:13.290]We hope this'll be a contemplative series,
[00:13:16.270]one that people will listen to,
[00:13:18.010]and if they hear something that they don't like,
[00:13:22.050]an opinion they don't like,
[00:13:23.020]that they will at least think about that opinion.
[00:13:26.090]And I'm trying to force myself to read, watch, listen
[00:13:29.620]to things that I know I don't inherently agree with,
[00:13:33.530]just because I do want to get a better feeling
[00:13:35.850]for why other people, friends of mine,
[00:13:37.830]people I respect, do think that way.
[00:13:40.418](patriotic orchestral music)
[00:13:44.740]Perhaps most important, Americans can go to the polls
[00:13:47.950]and make informed and thoughtful decisions.
[00:13:50.620]Chuck Hagel encourages all of us to take
[00:13:52.940]that civic responsibility seriously.
[00:13:56.180]'Cause I want to see people leading this country
[00:13:58.660]with character, courage, and judgment.
[00:14:00.899](patriotic orchestral music)
[00:14:07.360]That's it for Faculty 101.
[00:14:09.220]In the show notes, a link to Jerry and Rick's podcast.
[00:14:12.130]We'll also have a link to the Heuermann Lecture,
[00:14:14.270]in case you missed it.
[00:14:15.667](upbeat synth music)
[00:14:16.690]Next week on the podcast, a Faculty 101 extra,
[00:14:20.730]we explore how the university promotes food safety.
[00:14:24.390]The ones that we work on that are
[00:14:27.030]a part of food safety are extremely infectious.
[00:14:31.640]And we'll have some tips for your Thanksgiving dinner.
[00:14:35.690]Faculty 101 is produced
[00:14:37.330]by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
[00:14:42.600]Our goal has always been, how do we change this?
[00:14:45.270]How do we make this better?
[00:14:46.440]Rather than just sit back and go, yep, there's a problem.
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