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Kent State Alum's New Book Makes 'An Effort to Understand'

David Murray and book
David Murray
David Murray, who grew up in Hudson and graduated from Kent State University, uses his skills as a communicator to find ways to bridge the nation's divide.

David Murray is a speechwriter, communications specialist, and publisher. Throughout his 30-year career, the author says he's never seen America as polarized, politically and economically, as it is now. The Kent State University alumnus has written a new book, "An Effort to Understand: Hearing One Another (and Ourselves) in a Nation Cracked in Half," about what he sees as a growing divide between politicians and business leaders and the public. Murray spoke with Kabir Bhatia spoke about his views, as a communicator, of the issues, and their possible solutions.

Murray: “In communications, whenever people are out drinking or having coffee or whatever they're doing, they finally come down to this place where they think, 'God, if only the world knew what we know. If only everybody—politicians, business people, regular citizens—understood what we understand about communication, the world would be a better place.' And as the world has become a more divided place—really, going back in my writing, to the beginning of the Obama administration and a little bit before that—it seemed to me to be time to put that to the test. What do communications people really know? What do writers really know that could help [to] if not unite our society, then at least make it less bad?”

Bhatia: “There’s a section where you discuss what business and political leaders need from us, the public. In the book you say that it’s for people to, essentially, grow up and stop posting crazy things online. Maybe you want to elaborate on that?”

Murray: “I think that Americans, especially—I can't speak for other citizens of other countries—but I think Americans have behaved and think of themselves, and have been encouraged to think of themselves, in a fairly adolescent way. By cable news, by people like George Carlin who had always gotten laughs by saying, ‘The world is a big club, and you ain't in it.’

“These elected leaders are the people we've elected to office. We should try our best to relate to them and to understand that they are human beings. They are flawed. They are in a flawed system. But [we should] try to understand them as leaders because they are of us.

“One of the concepts that I talk about throughout this book, without naming it, is what I'm referring to as ‘Listening with Imagination.’ [It] means not just sitting down and arguing with somebody who's on the other side of the political aisle from you or somebody who's in a different socioeconomic stratosphere than you. But to find areas in your own life where you can relate to that person. If you're criticizing someone in power, think about times when you actually have power in your own life and how many times you actually screw it up, whether you're dealing with family situations or whether you're dealing with community situations. I just think that citizens need to try to be understanding of leaders and try to understand where they fail and where they succeed. This idea that ‘I hate all politicians,’ you hear that all the time and, it's just not an adult point of view.”

Bhatia: “Do you feel like social media has really exacerbated this problem in the last 15 years or so?”

Murray: “I do, but I don't necessarily just blame social media. I think that, again, it comes back to us and how we deal with social media. I think that we behave on social media with a kind of magical thinking. I think we often post things thinking that only the people who agree with it will see it. So we write nasty, dismissive things about political candidates [and] other people. In our brains, we think, ‘Oh, just my friends will see that. Just the people who agree with me will see that.’ Everybody sees it. Each one of us now is like a columnist. Each one of us has hundreds of friends and a sphere of influence that's broad. I think that if you ask yourself, ‘Why am I posting this? What could possibly be the negative consequences of posting something that is rude and dismissive?’ I think you wouldn't post a lot of the stuff you post.

“I feel like every American citizen now has the influence of a media personality, but they don't behave with the responsibility of a media personality. So, I think they somehow underestimate their influence in terms of in terms of poisoning the culture. And I think people are doing it thoughtlessly.”

David Murray will be participating in an online chat May 6 with The Learned Owl in his hometown of Hudson. Details are here.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.