Tempering Extremism

Scott Simon, Weekend Edition Saturday (opens in a new link), in his interview of Governor Spencer Cox, R-Utah, asked the governor what can be done to temper the extremism that’s so prevalent today.

The governor said that both the traditional media and social media are incentivized to promote extremism. Traditional media gain viewers and, consequently, advertisers. Extremist social media posts gain more clicks, more likes and more engagement than non-extremist posts.

Governor Cox suggests that we all be more careful about what information we take in. To me, this suggests that we find media outlets that are less sensational, less judgmental and less opinion based in their reporting. In today’s world, that’s more challenging than we might think, but it’s certainly worth the effort.

With regard to social media, I’m interpreting Governor Cox’s suggestion to mean that we stay away from social media sites that foment extremism. There are several reasons for avoiding these sites:

  • Exposure to extremism, over time, will warp our perspective in such a way that our default way of thinking is extreme as well.
  • When we visit extremist sites, we encourage extremist behavior. Conversely, when we ignore extremist sites, we minimize the attention and impact they crave.
  • We minimize any desire we might have to respond to extremist views. If we agree with the extremist view, we add credence to extremism. If we dispute the extremist view, we waste a lot of time and energy trying to convince people who don’t want to believe anything other than what they currently believe.

Governor Cox also suggested that we be careful about what we post on social media. He said that it is better to post something positive and have fewer clicks than to encourage extremist views. I couldn’t agree more.

The reality is that, despite the volume of extremism we’re fed daily, the vast majority of the people throughout the world are more centrist, and more positive, in their attitudes toward life and their dealings with others. The vast majority of us are fed up with the sensationalism and the extremism of the paltry minority that foment disruption and violence. The numbers are on our side, let’s use them to help temper today’s extremism.

For you

Be cognizant of the draw that extremism has upon us. Our natural tendency is to either agree with or dispute extremist views. Either way we get drawn into battles over extremism and in doing so give extremists the power they desire, but don’t deserve.

When traditional media present extremist views, or express judgments about the information being reported, remind yourself that they are doing you a disservice. Look for alternative sources for your news…ones that don’t present extremist views or form judgments about the information being reported.

For our kids

If children are watching traditional media with you, help them see that what is being “reported” is extremism sensationalized for the purpose of pushing an agenda. Help them understand that extremism is being used to further that medial outlet’s financial gain in a way that puts profits ahead of public welfare.

Be aware of their social media presence and usage. Discuss current events with them to see how they are forming opinions about what’s going on in the world. If you find that they are migrating toward extremist views, engage them in identifying alternative ways of dealing with the situation being discussed. Using this approach, you avoid disagreeing with them which would create defensiveness on their part.

By asking them what alternatives they see you get them to explore alternative views of the issue. As a result, they’ll see the legitimacy that exists on all sides of the issue. This will keep their minds open. An open mind is the antidote to extremism. The more open minds we create, the more we temper extremism.

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