“I hope that listeners feel challenged by my questions, but even more, that listeners feel empowered to go out into the world and challenge the opinions they hear by asking more questions.”
Chris Tatem talks to The Speakeasy about his newly launched podcast, Cross Examined Life. A podcast based around controversial topics, Chris and his guests discuss global issues and debates.
Tell us a bit about the Cross Examined Life – what kind of podcast is it?
Cross Examined Life is a weekly audio program that brings you a clash of ideas. Guests present their positions and beliefs surrounding controversial topics and I, as the host, get to poke, prod and challenge the assumptions underlying those beliefs. Listeners then get to decide whether or not the guest’s position has withstood the scrutiny of cross exam.
How did this idea come about and what drew you to it?
Ever since I was young I’ve been asking questions. Not just about the way the world works and my place in it, but about whether or not every assumption or underlying fact that makes up a broader opinion is accurate or fully considered. I find often in my own life and with others I meet, that we all have ideas, beliefs, and strong opinions that are not grounded in well-reasoned thought and actual facts, but instead are the product of many years of thinking the same thoughts and hearing others reinforce those thoughts.
Throughout my life, I’ve been criticized for asking too many questions and not just letting the first answer to a question suffice. The problem is, many people squirm when you ask them a tough question and they perform a sort of verbal gymnastics to avoid answering these questions or confronting an unpleasant reality. Cross Examined Life doesn’t afford you the luxury of hiding behind polite conversation or sweeping generalizations in an attempt to answer a question. When I ask my guest a question during the show, the understanding and agreement is that they’re going to answer it. And if they don’t – if they try to do a verbal dance or skirt around the issue, I just re-engage with the same or question, based on the premise that every question deserves an answer.
To further validate the role that questions have in our lives, I’ve selected as a hashtag for the show and social media posts related to the show, #AskMoreQs. My goal is to both get people asking more questions about everything in their lives, but also to show listeners that when they do have a ton of questions about an unwelcome or unfamiliar perspective, those questions and the ensuing disagreement can be had both thoughtfully and respectfully.
How do you decide the topics for each episode?
I really want my guests to feel strongly about their topic, so I always ask my intended guest what topics animate them. If a guest has a hard time thinking of a position they could defend, I have started asking them what frustrates them. I have found that often the behaviors of others we find my frustrating reveal beliefs and strong opinions that determine how we respond to those frustrating people and situations. If I think about an issue throughout the week that I think might make for an engaging back and forth, I will also note it down and then check in with upcoming guests to see if any of them have a special interest in defending a position related to that issue.
You explore quite intense, controversial topics. How do you go about researching them to discuss the different sides of them?
Fortunately, my job as the host is quite literally to just question and chip away at the position of my guests. To try and poke holes in their arguments and see whether they still hold water in the end. So as you can imagine, I probably have a less research-intensive job than my guest. I still want to be knowledgeable about the subject however, and find that it helps to have at least an anecdote and maybe one statistic going into a discussion – just as a jumping off point.
I may do 10-15 minutes of research before starting a cross exam. But my goal is that these cross exams would not be contests of who can marshal the most facts and statistics (since that’s much more a question of time than skill), but that they’d be a contest of ideas and arguments – where we’d focus on the kind of world we want to live in and think would be ideal.
How do these episode discussions influence your own way of thinking?
Hosting Cross Examined Life has been something like therapy for my marriage. I’ve noticed that I ignite far fewer arguments with my wife, now that I have a weekly outlet where arguments and questions are expected. It sort of gives me a safe place to ask the string of a hundred questions my heart and mind are running through on a daily basis. These cross exams have also helped me to be more humble. It’s easy to think we have the answers and know the best policy decision going forward. But my favorite cross exams end with the guest indicating that he or she is now better able to appreciate the perspective of the other, having heard the full array of objections to the position he or she is advancing. So recognizing that hearing from the opposite side can yield new appreciations has helped me be less certain of my opinions and policies going forward.
How do you hope these episode discussions influence your listeners’ ways of thinking?
I hope my listeners frequently hear their own beliefs challenged on the show. In fact, I intentionally try to balance the positions advanced on the show, so that if we have a progressive position one week, the next week listeners get to hear a more conservative or traditional argument made. The benefit of that, I think, is that listeners will routinely hear their position advanced by guests, and then poked, tested and challenged through the cross exam.
I hope that listeners feel challenged by my questions, but even more, that listeners feel empowered to go out into the world and challenge the opinions they hear by asking more questions. Finally, I include at the end of every episode, Ten Takeaway Tips, based on how the argument progressed, that are very practical guidelines listeners can use the next time they find themselves in a disagreement. It is always music to my ears to hear a listener say they listened to and then implemented one of these tips. I really believe they are pro tips for improving the way we disagree.
Can listeners contact you for Q&A/topic suggestions?
I’d encourage listeners to contact me with questions, comments, feedback or suggestions for new episodes. They can email me at questions@crossexaminedlife.
com or leave me a voice message by calling (+1) 307-240-9190. Listeners can find outlines of each guest’s argument and discussions about each episode on our closed Facebook Group, Cross Examined Life Community. If they send a request to JOIN, I’d be happy to include them in the conversation.
Also, it’s a strange phenomenon, but I’ve had lots of strike-outs trying to book women as guests on the show. I would encourage any of your female readers who like to advance arguments and defend positions when questioned, to contact me about potentially being a guest on an upcoming episode!
Cross Examined Life Podcast, accessible at www.crossexaminedlife.com, on iTunes/iPhone Podcast app, and on android devices.