I know it has been a while since this blog was updated. On one hand, I have been incredibly busy at work – we’re in the middle of our grant season, I’ve been going on site visits with nonprofits, there have been several events, and I was in Albuquerque for a conference a few weeks ago. On the other hand, I admit I only really enjoy writing about topics that people are willing to discuss.
Let me explain: last week I was watching two good friends fight via that great medium of conflict, Facebook. They eventually wound up unfriending one another over the argument. It honestly didn’t bother me incredibly: I was the sole catalyst for their connection and they had only known one another for a few months, though I’ve known both of them for several years. But watching the argument and seeing how each side was positioning, I realized that the argument would inevitably be without a winner. Both parties were accusing rather than discussing, and essentially repeating their position over and over to one another.
This is what I have seen all over the television, the Internet, and even occasionally in real life over the past month. When people butt heads over topics, it turns immediately into personal name-calling and generalizations rather than discussion. I believe that much of this comes from how media is used. Yes, the Internet is a great source of information, and a person can research viewpoints all across the spectrum if they so desire. But how often is it used in that way?
Instead, the Internet is utilized as a fantastic medium for hunting down a strong network of very like-minded compatriots, and retreating, in a sense, into an antisocial bubble of homogeneous thought processes. Many people freelance and do their work remotely now as well. They work from home, and only go out on occasion to shop, to socialize, and only when absolutely necessary. Even many students attend college through online courses, at-home seminars, and home schooling. This means that they’re able to spend much of their time hyper-selectively choosing what they read and see, as well as the people with whom they interact. Previously there were very few jobs that allowed you to do all this work from home, and certainly very few education programs. You had to commute to an office or a class, and it was far more difficult to control which people you would meet and the conversations you would have. You would face varying opinions from the most laissez-faire approach to governing to the strictest, most controlling. And you would have to learn to interact with those people and find some common ground. You could not break into heated screaming matches with every third person you met.
With the Internet, this is no longer the case. People become so accustomed to being in a group where everything they say is lauded and they receive unequivocal support for their opinions, that when they meet someone that points out a differing viewpoint, it is treated as the ultimate affront. Even if that disagreement comes from someone with whom you usually agree. That conflict becomes a serious insult, and many just do not seem to know how to move forward from there. They often even seem shocked to discover that a view different from their own exists, and may even prove common!
Yes, there are still topics that have some wiggle room for discussion. Those are the topics about which I enjoy writing. I don’t like expounding on something where I know those that agree with me will simply agree, and those that disagree will not even read the argument. Even if you agree with what I write, I would almost prefer my writing expose a flaw in our agreed determination, or that it at least allows you to think about alternatives. It’s unfortunate that many topics receive a more obstinate reaction, but what can you do?
But those tough topics, those where people are most set in their belief structures, are also the themes that I feel we’ve been facing for the most part this past month. The government shutdown, the debt ceiling, the Affordable Care Act – if you read the discussion, both sides spend their time misquoting the other while expounding on their own beliefs. They don’t pause for a breath to even let the other speak before continuing to rant.
So what’s the solution? Go out, I say. Get out more, go somewhere that maybe makes you a little uncomfortable. Let yourself be offended, but in a situation where you can’t reply to someone in capslock without fear of the other person just throwing a punch for your incivility. Go somewhere where you have to listen to the other person and can’t simply post a meme in response.
I think those that read this blog know that I tend towards the conservative side – a very traditional conservative with a lower case “c.” I grew up in a moderate liberal area and went to a very liberal college. I learned to listen at a young age. I learned to take in arguments, and to accept that often a differing philosophy is a differing philosophy. It isn’t an affront to you or to your own intelligence or sensitivity. It doesn’t mean that a relationship must end. You can have friends that don’t agree wit you on every topic. In fact, it’s probably preferable, as others can call you out and force you to more thoroughly examine your convictions.
This country was formed because people had a different opinion. And we will always have some form of conflict, those that hold different convictions, because that is the very spirit of this country. To pray for everyone to be united under one single ideology is missing the entire point, in my view.
That said, I do have a few ideas dancing around my head. Now that we’re past this particular bit of extra strength toxicity (for the moment), there will be more to come.