Humans have a divide between their perceptions and reality. We are, in fact, the only species that has this, because we are the only species that we know of that has an imagination and a proper ego. Our senses tell us things, but our wants and needs color our perception until what we're thinking of hasn't got much to do with how things actually are.
Call it one-person disinformation theory.
Few people recognize that this divide exists, and even fewer know what to do with it. Most people try to fill the divide with partisan politics, religion, and other weird beliefs. Hell, a lot of people just try to fill it full of booze or pot or whatever their substance of choice is.
Obviously, while all these things may feel like they're accomplishing something, they really just make matters worse...Conspiracy theory, for example, starts out with the theorist examining what he thinks is accurate data for once (It's usually just information that has gone through the faulty filters of other theorists), and by the time he's done, he's hating on the Jews, because by now he's stretched his divide a mile wide and they seem like a likely target.
And as we've learned from Julian Assange's experiences, if you try to narrow the gap with accurate information, just about everyone will want to kill you.
There are five basic things you have to do, if you're interested in actually closing the divide, rather than delude yourself into feeling better about things:
1. Obtain information that is as accurate as possible, discarding suspect data. In other news, Fox, MSNBC, etc, are all basically useless...And blogs, etc, are usually even worse. Foreign media, direct news feeds, etc, aren't flawless either, but anything they agree with the local media on is probably fairly accurate. Cain can give better advice than I on mostly unbiased/reliable sources. Lastly, always read primary sources if possible, rather than summaries or recaps.
2. Examine the data with as few preconceptions as possible, even if - especially if - the data disagrees with what you "know" to be true. The most accurate information is useless if you won't read it, or if you hammer it until it fits the patterns you desire.
3. Give the "other side" a fair hearing. If you're a liberal, read conservative publications occasionally. If you're a skeptic, at least hear the believers out. Tuning out all disagreeing opinion is a guaranteed way to open that divide back up, as you are rejecting data that doesn't fit the way you want to see the world. You may decide that the data gained from the opposition is garbage, but at least you looked at all sides of a question.
4. If data seems correct, but doesn't make sense, you don't have all the facts. Dig deeper.
5. This is the hardest one. If data is correct, but doesn't fit your world-view, change your worldview. This isn't as obvious as it seems...People have an amazing ability to simply forget inconvenient data, or to change the subject/deflect from the subject when the facts don't come up the way they want. For example, prove to a Teabagger that Obama isn't a Kenyan, and they'll say, yeah, but he's a closet Muslim. Prove that he's a Christian, and they'll say, okay, but he's a socialist. Point out that he's basically just Bush's third term, and they'll start demanding his birth certificate again. Don't laugh too hard, though, because you do the same thing on other subjects.
Most people think they're already doing these things. Most people are wrong. Stop being wrong. Opinion is nothing, only The Truth matters, because bad data will eventually get you killed.
Or Kill Me.