Every once in a while, I try listening to Rush Limbaugh. I never make it past the first five minutes.

Perhaps that’s my loss.

To explore that statement, let’s start with President Obama’s commencement address at the University of Michigan. (If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and visit the site. Many aspects of dialogue that we’ve discussed here appear there as well. Only he’s way more eloquent.) During the speech, Obama gave this advice:

If you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while.  If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website.  It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed.  But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. 

Several good things happen when we “listen to opposing views.” When we hear conservatives articulate conservative stances, or liberals speak from their experience as liberals, we get a firsthand, unfiltered view of that perspective—unfiltered, that is, by their adversaries’ use of terms like wingnut or socialist to inflame passions and thus obscure the details. Even if we don’t agree, we can at least see where they’re coming from. More often than not, we can see that their argument has some logical thought behind it, that they’re trying to grapple with the same issues we are, even that one or two of their insights might make sense.

Then, when we actually engage the “other side” in dialogue, we’re not thinking of them as wingnuts or socialists. Our perspective has moderated. Perhaps our anger has abated. That paves the way for deeper, more effective dialogue.

On another front, a “balanced media diet” doesn’t just facilitate dialogue; it is dialogue. As we absorb our adversaries’ insights, we naturally stimulate our own thinking—whether we’re marshaling counterarguments or just trying to draw out the opposing insight to its logical conclusion. The dialogue is happening in our heads. That in itself prepares us to be more curious and more civil when we have the dialogue with others.  

So how do we balance our media diet? It’s not all that hard, but there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye—even a bit more than Obama articulated in his address. Let’s look at that next week.