Tripod Editorial: The Power of Good Conversation

In today’s world, the value of a good, engaging, and insightful conversation with a peer, professor, family member, or mere acquaintance is often taken for granted or overlooked. We are so consumed by a million different stimuli that taking time out of one’s day to engage with another eye-to-eye feels boring compared to the multitude of other digital interactions we could be having. At the risk of sounding decades older than we actually are, attention spans are steadily decreasing amongst people of our generation and younger. However, the medium of podcasting serves as one way in which conversations are resurfacing as influential and captivating amongst younger populations. The popularity of this kind of broadcasting may be due to the ability it provides broadcasters to edit their content after broadcasting, while radio shows often take the form of live broadcasts. Though podcasting is arguably a more doctored and manicured form of entertainment and news casting, these episodes are often more laser focused on the topics hosts discuss, and thus serve to engage the audience on another level that may be unattainable through radio-coverage of more general topics. 

Last Thursday, Oct. 14, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta sat down with podcast host and comedian Joe Rogan for a three hour long discussion. For anyone who does not know anything about either of these two men, they hold views that are fairly at odds with one another. Back in April of this year, Rogan released an episode in which he suggested anti-vaccination opinions, stating that “If you’re like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I’ll go no.” During the Ap. 23 episode, Rogan spoke with comedian Dave Smith about their relative experiences in having children who contracted COVID-19, and how both families saw their children only show minor symptoms. However, Rogan himself nearly agreed to get vaccinated, and offered this to Gupta as proof that he is not necessarily “anti-vaccine” regardless of how often he questions their legitimacy. Rogan invited Gupta onto his show, knowing that Gupta is known to advocate for widespread vaccination, and Gupta relayed that he had been cautioned against accepting this invitation, with friends warning him that “he is a brawler and doesn’t play fair,” and that “there is little room for reasonable conversations anymore.” Gupta even acknowledged how exceptionally immersive their conversation was, noting that he did not think he had “ever had a conversation that long with anyone.” In a recap of the conversation, Gupta also complimented Rogan’s ability to feature conversations on his podcast, one of the most popular in the country, that “last exceptionally long and go particularly deep.”

Gupta did not seem to agree to do the interview to convince Rogan of his perspective, although he would have liked to. He instead agreed to sit down to speak with the man on his widely popular podcast because of how people today are isolated in “silos” and only hear what they want to hear. People either choose Fox, CNN, MSNBC, or other even more biased and lopsided sources of news. Because of how we now get our news and information, and because of the algorithms used by online media sources including Facebook, we can stay isolated in our views and certain of our conclusions simply because we rarely or never hear alternative points of view. That is dangerous and is part of the reason so many people do not believe in COVID-19, do not trust vaccines, and why we are still in the midst of the pandemic. Gupta had an opportunity to talk to the other side, to the people who would otherwise never hear his opinions and normally only listen to people spouting anti-vaccine rhetoric and COVID-19 misinformation, and he took this opportunity with an open mind.   

He knew that Rogan had his mind made up, but seized a chance to perhaps influence those who would listen to the podcast, saying that “my three-hour conversation wasn’t just with Rogan. If just a few of his listeners were convinced, it will have been well worth it.”

Gupta tried to educate that part of the population and convince even a few of those indoctrinated in the right wind paranoia and conspiracy theories and hopefully save a few lives and maybe shorten the duration of the pandemic by getting more people vaccinated. 

Gupta and Rogan, regardless of their differences in political affiliation, showed that two people with different points of view can sit down and have an intelligent discussion even if no one comes away convinced that the other side is actually right.  At least they can talk; that is a start and a step in the right direction. And maybe someone who listened will actually learn something real. 

-KJN        

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