Photo by Brandon Hamilton
These days, it seems like every online conversation devolves quickly into a virtual shouting match about political views.
Meanwhile, in person we tiptoe around, hoping we don’t step on a conversational landmine.
Social media allows us to do some great things. We can talk with people from all over the world; we can scroll through news and information of specific interest to us; we can share our lives with dozens, hundreds or thousands of people with almost no effort.
But it is also a trap.
We can turn off perspectives we don’t agree with, hiding them behind virtual hedges surrounding our own private worlds.
We know there are people out there who don’t agree with us, but as our self-made echo chambers magnify our own ideas back at us, we may start to think those other people must be pretty dumb.
Meanwhile, our society has conditioned us to believe the internet isn’t the “real world,” so we can do or say things there we would never do in person.
We may get into virtual screaming matches and call people horrible names, knowing but somehow not quite believing the people on the other side of the screen are, in fact, people like us.
And when a conversation gets too ideologically threatening or annoying or boring, we can just stop responding and fade away, confident we were right all along, and go back to sharing our ideas among other people we agree with.
When our only concern is winning an argument, we lose sight of the chance to listen and grow.
When our only intake of ideas is the echo chamber of social media, we close our minds and harden our hearts.
None of this is doing us any good. We aren’t learning anything new or unifying across our differences.
Instead, we’re using social media to segment ourselves while becoming more and more disdainful of people who don’t think like we do.
Not only that, but we also paradoxically become more desperate to be heard as we notice people on the “other side” closing off in the same ways we are.
And that’s why we should break down our walls and start having real conversations.
Some of us are afraid of offending our friends. Others are worried we’ll be labeled unfairly as belonging to one camp or another. And most of us don’t want to stir up trouble.
But we’ll never be able to solve important issues of our communities or our country if we don’t start listening to each other again.
There are certain ideas that should never be acceptable: anti-Semitism, racism, hatred, homophobia and so on.
But we should be careful not to snap-judge each other or to shut each other down with labels that halt conversation before any progress can be made.
We are all works in progress, and labeling each other for not being perfect and having all the right answers does none of us any good.
We need to talk to one another, in person, respectfully, about the hard stuff.
We need to speak up about our beliefs, but we also need to give each other permission to be different and even wrong—or at least wrong from our perspective.
We are all people, and we all have reasons for believing the things we do.
It’s time to speak up about those things, but it’s also time to start listening.