If the gods of communication would allow me to inject just two or three key messages into the brains of the American public, one would be this: Almost everything you "know" about your misguided political opponents or rival religions is wrong.
As I've written here until you're tired of reading it, the facts of real life are nearly always fuzzier and more malleable than we'd prefer them.
Until we make an effort to become nuanced thinkers, we'll probably not work through many of our cultural disputes. We'll just endlessly yell at each other.
Here's an example of how common wisdom can be too simplistic.
In political elections, men tend more often to vote Republican and women Democratic. True. That's an empirical fact.
But a recent op-ed in the New York Times shows that the reasons for this difference probably aren't as clear-cut as partisans claim.
For instance, "a key element of the gender gap (in voting allegiance) is often assumed to be a difference in attitudes to women's reproductive rights," says the op-ed piece's author, Razib Khan, a doctoral student in genomics at the University of California, Davis.
"The perception that men and women have divergent views on abortion has persisted over time," he continues. "The line popularized by Gloria Steinem that 'if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament' proposes that a male-female divide over this social issue is more or less a biological given."
Yet polls regularly demonstrate this perception to be false.
The General Social Survey, which tracks American opinions, has found in 17 of the 23 years it's polled our views on abortion that more men than women say women should be free to have an abortion for any reason.
Actually, for men and women alike, views on abortion have much more to do with other demographic variables than with gender.
"As it happens," Khan continues, "religious attendance and biblical literalism, as well as political ideology, were all highly predictive of attitudes toward abortion."
He speculates the reason women oppose abortion on demand more often than men "is that, according to most surveys, women tend to be more religious than men."
Statistically, the most anti-abortion segment of America is conservative women — not conservative men. Liberal women are the most likely to approve of abortion.
Thus, Kahn says, "the more significant difference here is not between men and women, but among women."
Wait, it gets thornier.
More than a quarter of women categorized as "extremely liberal" in the General Social survey oppose unconditional abortion rights. And 18.2 percent of "extremely conservative" women unequivocally favor reproductive freedom.
"Our liking for black-and-white versions of reality is belied by their more shaded truths," Khan observes. " ... We miss a substantial proportion of the electorate if all we apprehend is the stylized cartoon. Nuance goes out the window when slogans about the 'war on women' or the 'liberal media' dominate public discourse."
Thank you. That cannot be pointed out often enough to suit me.
Most real-life issues can't be responsibly reduced to a rant from Fox News or the rhetoric shouted at an abortion-rights rally. Real life is complicated and contradictory. It's not a hash tag, a bumper sticker or a placard.
It's not "support our troops" or "believe the victims" or "old white men" or "God bless America" or "the war on Christmas" or even "black lives matter."
Hardly any issue is that one-dimensional.
To be fit citizens, we must train ourselves to think critically. We must relentlessly grope for clarity amid a blizzard of propaganda. We should use our brains to rescue facts and common sense from the dross of raw emotions and blind ideology.
Here are a few suggestions for thinking more clearly about hot-button issues:
1. Question everything.
2. If it reinforces what you'd prefer to believe, question it twice as hard. Spend less time trying to prove your assumptions than trying to discover facts.
3. Seek independent verification. Instead of buying a popular dogma whole cloth — men want to control women's bodies — Kahn, like a smart graduate student, took time to carefully digest the existing studies.
4. Shut up and listen to a person who disagrees with you. Too often, we only talk with — and listen to — those like us, then shout past those on the far bank. Our assumptions about them, as often as not, eventually prove errant and uninformed.
5. Be brave. Be willing to be the dissenter among your friends.
6. When you hear people spouting mindless bull hockey, call them on it. Say, "Show me your evidence."
We want every subject black or white. Largely, real life is made up of endless grays.