Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Taking the ‘I’ out of politics

Avery Thorpe

Partisan discourse exists in our news coverage, social media pages and elections so much that it appears nobody truly agrees on anything. 

These views are a direct result of what happens in smaller, everyday discussions: We place ourselves at the center of the issue. Rather than listening, we formulate our next talking point to prove our “opponent” wrong. We turn valuable dialogue into debates.

A 2021 Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences study found that ego-involved commitment in ideological thinking can create polarized discourse. To initiate change on a larger scale, we must first change how we approach controversial topics.

Removing ego is the first step in cultivating political self-awareness and openness.

“Helping something become the best it can be often requires us to set our egos aside and to have conversations in which we feel vulnerable,” said Joe Cutbirth, an assistant professor of instruction at the Moody College of Communication. “That’s what mature adults do, and that’s what helps us have a better world and a better space.”

Admitting we do not have all the answers is a strength, yet it’s an undeniably difficult task. Cutbirth said that when faced with opposing information, individuals can feel a mental and physical discomfort called cognitive dissonance. Still, uncomfortable conversations are essential for productive political dialogue.

“People have different coping mechanisms in that discourse,” Cutbirth said. “They can either reconsider other new information, or they can just believe what they want to believe and be in denial.” 

Being proven wrong is not a failure. The benefit of challenging your beliefs is twofold. If new information disproves your opinion, there is an opportunity for growth. On the other hand, there is also good in knowing you stand firm in your original views after hearing counterarguments.

“I hold presupposed beliefs and preconceived beliefs, but just because they’re the beliefs that I hold, that does not itself give them value or accuracy,” government and philosophy freshman Zach Lacy said. “I try to keep myself calm and to keep myself with an open mind to truly listen to the arguments.”

An inclination toward the extreme can lead to disdain for political discussion altogether. Larry Schooler, an assistant professor of practice at the Moody College of Communication, said that in political debates, there are people who will go for the metaphorical jugular just to get a reaction. 

“There certainly is an overlap between a desire for attention and the need for something very provocative as a position, and most of the time what provokes people in terms of position taking is something kind of on the fringe or on the extreme,” Schooler said.

Polarizing views can alienate individuals who have differing ideas or are unsure of their place in politics. With over 50,000 students enrolled at UT, it’s impossible to avoid conflict when discussing sensitive issues. But that is the strength of the University and our student body — a distinct diversity of thought. 

“Most people who are passionate about something should recognize that there’s probably someone out there who is as, if not more, passionate and feels very differently and they’re as entitled to their opinion as you are yours,” Schooler said. 

There’s an inherent discomfort in discussing issues that actually matter. While putting aside one’s ego and pretensions may feel unpleasant, an egotistical mindset only hinders political progress. Real, tangible progress is made when we stop talking and start listening.

Henningsen is an English and advertising junior from Austin, Texas.

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About the Contributor
McKenzie Henningsen, Associate Opinion Editor & Associate Copy Desk Chief
McKenzie Henningsen is a junior English and advertising double major from Austin, Texas. She currently serves as Associate Opinion editor and Associate Copy Desk Chief.