Friday, October 14, 2016

Don't box me in

Once upon a time there was a world where people could hold differing views and still have a calm, cool, and collected conversation. Once upon a time we would acknowledge that others might be able to enlighten us to new facts and ways of thinking. Then came Facebook. Now I'm not blaming Facebook exclusively, but we are all familiar with the cocooning effect that is produced as a result of social media. When we are on a social media account surrounded by people we've picked to "friend" or "follow", with very similar views as us, we begin to see the echo chamber around us as a indicator of ALL reality. We tend to feel protected, sitting behind a computer, and are unafraid to give an unsolicited and/or rash opinion, with very little care for the delivery method.

Last weekend I sat at a blogger event listening to a speaker. She was speaking on all sorts of political topics of which I vehemently disagree. But I did not stand in my seat and holler at the stage, telling her to get down from her platform, to stop being so stupid. I didn't draw irrational, or overly simplistic conclusions about the kind of person she must be, or the kind of company she may keep. But how many times do we do this when it comes to Facebook? Or any other social media platform? Somehow those same opinions slip out easily when we encounter opposing views on a social media platform.

I'm not proposing to talk about the ethics behind our methodology or why we should or shouldn't share our opinion. In fact I don't believe it is wrong to share our opinion candidly, and maybe even aggressively. What I proposed to address instead is another effect brought about by Facebook.

The "boxing" effect.

By "boxing" I mean the tendency to group people in easy to understand categories that help us to define them and also to define ourselves. The world before us has multiple forks in the road of "worldview" formation. Many times we can make a variety of decisions with different consequences, or different reasons than someone else. Some people may traditionally take a certain type of stance on a topic... perhaps a more liberal stance or a more conservative stance on a given topic. War? Feminism? Gender identity? The drug war? Guns?

But what happens when those same people may take a stance that appears to be an outlier? What if someone picks and chooses from multiple platforms because of personal experience, logical conclusions, or emotional reasoning?

I'll tell you what happens... at least on social media. Outrage! Opposition! Incredulousness! Very rarely is the response inquiry or curiosity.

We are all free beings, and many that think heavily on subjects find that there are often middle roads or situations in which both sides of an argument have some rational backing. But, in today's "boxing" society, this is not well recieved. The "tolerance" preached by culture as a whole, is usually only tolerance for silent objection. Verbal differences tend to be lambasted.

 I am not a proponent of moral relativism. I believe there is one truth. But that doesn't mean I cannot recognize there are many different reasons someone might hold a particular opinion, and it might not be the reason I would assume they would hold an opinion.

Perhaps someone voting for someone we don't like is not a bigot, but they have other reasons we don't understand. Perhaps someone proposing a social change we think it will ruin the moral fabric of our country has reasons behind their decisions also based on ethics, or their own world compass. It is possible to have a relationship and constructive conversation with a person of a differing view, but first we must realize that our beliefs are NOT our identity.

When we "box" someone in as a certain "type" of person, because of a certain belief, we do a disservice to ourselves and others. We would most likely resent this same treatment, but by enacting it on others we as much as tell ourselves "you are only worth something if you have the 'right' view". We reinforce our own underlying fear of being wrong or mistaken and make it harder to ever keep an open mind. We aren't enhancing a tolerant community, we are sequestering ourself inside our own echo chamber where uncomfortable conflicts are never welcome. The same conflicts which serve to strengthen us as people, and sharpen our reasoning skills.

By categorizing another in an easy to understand box, it relieves the anxiety that you may be wrong. It makes it easier to write someone off, but it also makes it easier for them to write you off. To assume you know motivations behind any and every decision someone else makes is simply prideful. To assume that everyone makes a decision that you fully understand is also ridiculous.

Middle of the roaders, or people that have changed a viewpoint are often ridiculed from multiple angles, because they are a constant reminder that you cannot understand the world by categorizing people. Those willing to engage in explanatory conversation are usually the first to be tossed under the bus or accused of "drinking the kool aid".

Maybe just maybe there is something to be learned from the other. Maybe by learning these things we can better further are own understanding of the world, or we can develop empathy the helps us better explain what we believe. Or, maybe, we may discover we were wrong.

I don't believe that every person in the world naturally gravitates towards the good, but I believe nearly every person in the world at some point believes what they are doing is the best decision they can make at the moment. Regardless of the reason, or the truth of the matter, I am gaining nothing by shutting down someone who follows the path I can't follow.

Jesus speaks against the lukewarm person. This does not always mean the person that takes the middle of the road stance... depending on the reason for that middle of the road stance. Was the middle of the road stance taken because both of the other sides were touting logical fallacies that were not addressed? Was the middle of the road stance taken because the person was still in a state of inquiry?  Jesus spoke against the wavering individual who knew the way but wouldn't take it out of fear of failure, desire to fit in, or a fear to travel a difficult path of truth.

 Somewhere along the way culture has started to qualify who we are as people by the things we believe.. A person underneath every belief, underneath every action,  underneath everything that makes them seem to be the person they are, has value. I never thought that would be a controversial statement but it really is. A wavering, spineless, unthinking shell of a person still has value. A self-righteous indignant bigot, still has value.  A lot may say they agree with me until a comes down to a person that has so severely gone down a path away from their own the they no longer can see beyond the things they oppose, to the person beneath.

If we could slow down just a little bit, just enough to realize that the person underneath all those belief systems is also a human, is also person looking through their own lens... there stands a man or woman with different experiences, different influences, different challenges, different successes who has inate value.
By all means take a hard and fast opinion on things that matter. But when confronted by opposition  do not be so wrapped up in your identity of belief that you forget who you are underneath it all. You are someone valuable regardless of the beliefs you hold. You are someone of worth regardless of who you vote for or whether you don't vote it all. You are someone of worth regardless of your actions. Someone of worth underneath it all.

So social media won't be going away anytime soon and peoples attempts to categorize and "box" us in isn't going away either. But you can choose to see the human underneath it all...

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