I can’t tell if social media is helping or hurting our discourse. In part because I have friends from so many political, religious and ideological sides, I see a variety of articles, comments and arguments about ISIL, gun control, the US presidential election and so on. Some I vehemently disagree with, others I find articulate my own ideas and position well. But one theme is constant among almost all of it… a sense of loss and confusion, on both sides of the issues. Both sides seem unable, or perhaps unwilling, to understand how the other side sees the world. Convinced that their side is the correct one, both sides seem more intent on trying to convince each other or defend perceived attacks against their position rather than trying to listen and carry on a discourse that uplifts and encourages one another. The good Lord knows I’ve been plenty guilty of that myself, unfortunately. Thankfully I have friends who are willing to put up with me and forgive my mistakes, even if we still don’t agree on things.
That being said, I don’t know how to help improve the situation… I see people, whom I know to be kind loving individuals in person, take on wholly different personas online and it makes me wonder how I come across to those who disagree with me. What will it take to get us to a place where we listen to each other, truly listen? One of the things that has been coming to mind recently has been something I was taught in my interpersonal communication class many moons ago about “active listening.” One of the features of active listening is to first empty yourself of the response. Listen, reflect back what you have heard and then once you are both clear on what was said, then move forward with the next point of discussion. It requires patience, time, and a willingness to not immediately jump to your next point. I need to start putting it into practice more.
But I wonder, in the age of Trump (and I group him separate from the rest of the GOP field), if the idea of discussion is going the way of compromise and collaboration, as words and ideas that are somehow too toxic for people to use. One of the most disturbing things to me during the first Democratic debate was Hilary’s response when asked who her enemies were. First, what the hell was the point of asking that question? But more importantly, she listed Republicans as her enemy…and even if she was speaking in jest, it belies the greater problem in our current public discourse. Listening to Ted Cruz say most violent criminals are Democrats just adds fuel to the fire.
I have friends and family both who are both Republicans and conservatives (as I have learned from them, they are NOT always the same). I do not consider them my enemy, although I am most decidedly liberal in comparison, nor would I want to be considered their enemy. When we start demonizing our opponents we are already far far down the path towards a world in which our children will wonder why we let things get so bad. I disagree with many of my conservative friends on a variety of issues. But I respect them as people and friends first and foremost. Maybe we should start there…
But what do I know?