In a commencement speech at Ohio’s Oberlin College on Monday, First Lady Michelle Obama urged graduates not to surround themselves completely with like-minded people.
“You might be tempted to recreate what you had here at Oberlin, to seek out like-minded individuals,” Obama told graduates of the famously liberal college, according to a local Fox affiliate.
Instead, Obama said, the new graduates should actively seek out conflict and not be afraid to coexist with people who have vastly different opinions. From her speech, courtesy of the Huffington Post:
Here at Oberlin, most of the time you’re probably surrounded by folks who share your beliefs. But out in the real world, there are plenty of people who think very differently than you do, and they hold their opinions just as passionately. So if you want to change their minds, if you want to work with them to move this country forward, you can’t just shut them out. You have to persuade them, and you have to compromise with them.
The first lady’s remarks come at time when America is deeply politically polarised. Last year, the Pew Research Center polled 10,000 adults and found that “Republicans and Democrats are further apart ideologically than at any point in recent history.”
Americans these days are more likely to express consistently liberal or conservative views, and they’re more likely to exist in “ideological silos,” the study found. Roughly 60% of consistent conservatives said most of their close friends shared their political views, as did 49% of consistent liberals.
It is possible these “silos” reinforce people’s views and makes them more staunchly conservative or liberal than they’d otherwise be, as The New York Times’ Nate Cohn pointed out last year.
“The tendency for liberals and conservatives to self-segregate most likely reinforces the ideological and partisan divide, as voters silo themselves into echo chambers where dissenting opinions are rare,” Cohn wrote.
Of course, engaging in political discourse with people from across the aisle can be uncomfortable. Obama acknowledged that in her speech Monday.
“Today I want to suggest that if you truly wish to carry on the Oberlin legacy of service and social justice, then you need to run to and not away from the noise,” she said, according to CBS News. “Today, I want to urge you to actively seek out the most contentious, polarised, gridlocked places you can find because so often throughout our history, those have been the places where progress really happens.”
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