I think it’s time for the revival of the 90s kid mantra: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Lately I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the chatter. My Facebook feed has become a firing squad of words and accusations, backed by supporting “media”, in a world of alternative facts. Seemingly everyone is holstered with their opinions, ready to pull the trigger upon sight or scent of an opposing view.
Pardon the interruption, but what you have to say is wrong and not nearly as important as what I have to say. I know I didn’t let you finish. I know I didn’t hear you out. Honestly, I didn’t even try to understand where you’re coming from. It’s just what you were saying doesn’t align with what I know to be true, so you should just concede, or we can continue barking at each other, publicly, under this meme, until I unfriend you.
Which side is up? And when did human decency fly out the window?
For the most part, I have tried to just sit back and watch. Not out of cowardice or fear of being pounced on, okay maybe a little bit out of fear of being pounced on, but also in a genuine attempt to avoid the inevitable one-sided conversation. Try as we might, it is insanely hard, if not impossible, to have a proper dialogue online. Not to mention with the absence of tone, inflection and facial expressions, humor is lost, sarcasm is taken literally, and arguments ensue.
Add to that the “protection” of a computer screen, and what you have is a no-holds-barred approach to feeding people our uninvited (and often harshly delivered) opinions. Twenty-four-seven. Gone are the days of modesty, manners, and decorum. Not to mention grammar, spelling, and correct punctuation, but that’s a whole different story.
The art of conversation. Let’s bring it back, people.
Mr. Rogers always carried in his wallet a quote from a social worker that said “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” That often comes to mind when I stumble upon scathing online discourse sparked by a political post or a disagreement with someone’s beliefs.
Seeing what should be a private and much more understanding discussion escalate into a battleground of accusations and suggested incompetence leaves me cringing. Sure, it’s momentarily entertaining, but like train wrecks and reality shows, it’s better left unseen.
I marvel at the thought of what we could learn if only we took time to sit down with people in person, truly hear them out, get to know where they are coming from and why. The conversation probably wouldn’t be easy, and it may not end in agreement or compromise, but when someone feels respected, listened to and understood, it opens the door to honesty, compassion, and empathy.
I get it. Facebook and Twitter are good sounding boards. It’s nice to post opinions and articles we find interesting to share with our extended circle. It’s a great way to speak your mind, stay in touch, and gain insight into other people’s perspectives. When it results in bitter exchanges and verbal attack, however, I think we’re missing the mark.
What would change if we actually took these conversations offline? Sat in a room, or over dinner, with people that disagreed with us on something we fundamentally believe? What if we took the time to listen with open minds to their opinion? What could we learn by not talking over them or drumming up an army of similar minded people to our immediate defense? What if instead of just releasing matter-of-fact statements to our feed, we were willing to tough out these conversations in real life?
Chances are, even in person, things would get heated. People get excited, passionate about things they care deeply for. Tears may be shed, new information may seep in slower than a clogged drain when it goes against what we know to be true. But, if there is any chance at finding common ground, this is it.
I have had many of these in-person debates with friends and family alike. We’ve dove into the very heavy topics of politics, abortion, feminism, and faith. These conversations fill to the brim with emotion only to spill us out into a mutually vulnerable place where our souls are bare and our hearts are open. From there we build again, block by block of genuine communication. Even if our stance stays the same, something in us has shifted. A deeper understanding of who we are, what we believe and why.
The power of human interaction and face-to-face conversation cannot be replicated online, even in the wittiest virtual exchange or longest reply. The beauty of understanding and respecting each other, despite our differences, results in personal transformation that can have a ripple effect on the world, long after the discussion has ended. Don’t be afraid to step off the soapbox, put the megaphone down, and lean in closer to listen. You already know what you know and you may be surprised to learn what you don’t. In the midst of hostility, a little bit of humanity can go a long way.