Reach around the aisle

When people ask me about my favorite assignments as a newspaper photojournalist, it’s hard not to bring up the fun privileges, like flying in a stunt plane or having the rare opportunity to visit PNNL’s Shallow Underground Laboratory. While those are certainly the most relatable perks of the job, it’s even more rewarding to interact with so many different people — especially people who I would probably have never met or had a reason to talk to if I wasn’t professionally nosey.

The best lesson I’ve learned from meeting so many people from vastly different lives is how absurd the polarized political landscape is. Regardless of your own views, you’re bound to cover assignments in which you must talk to people who differ so drastically in their perspective. While no journalist is truly objective, there is a certain level of polite decorum you usually need to exhibit. Getting into an argument about policy on assignment is rarely a productive course of action.

Topics of conversation can vary outside the main thrust of whatever story I’m covering, and it’s within these conversations that I made a startling discovery.

People are not purely defined by their political ideals.

Crazy, right?

OK, this feels like one of those things that everybody seems to agree upon, and yet doesn’t hold true. Frivolous lawsuits, Westboro Baptist Church and Glee keep marching on despite similarly universal disdain.

So what’s the answer? It might help if more people worked in community journalism, but we’re in more of a layoff mode these days. And while waiting tables for a couple years seems to soften our unrealistic equation of “the customer is always right” with “treat me like a goddamned king or I will get you fired,” somehow I don’t think this experience would translate for everybody.

A simple step would be to expand your social circle a little bit. Stop hunkering down in your echo chambers of Fox News and MSNBC and try to find some common ground with somebody who sees things a little different.

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Kai-Huei Yau

Kai-Huei Yau

Kai-Huei Yau was a photojournalist at the Tri-City Herald for six years and recently moved west to be a communications specialist at Vertafore in Bothell. He's thrilled to live next to a great fried chicken joint, a good spot for pho and to put his journalism skills to work in a new way.

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