One of the blessings and/or curses of social media is that everyone has a voice. You get a voice, I get a voice, your crazy uncle gets a voice. And since everyone has a voice, somewhere on the internet somebody is wrong right this second. They are going to vote for the wrong candidate or they don’t value your religious convictions or they think the Dallas Cowboys are a team worth supporting.
The chorus of voices is diverse and our opinions are many and yet it seems to me that we have lost the ability to disagree well. We insult and antagonize. We jump to conclusions and fight straw men. We even go ALL CAPS when feeling particularly saucy.
Every issue is now politicized and our ability to find common ground is stunted. We make enemies out of people who hold differing views or experiences. We dehumanize ourselves and others simply because we disagree. And amazingly, despite all the venom we spew and seemingly conclusive facts we vomit, we change not a single opinion.
We can (and should) debate and be passionate, but we need do it with decency and mutual respect. We don’t have to hate each other just because we don’t agree. We don’t have to make it our personal mission to correct or rebuke every wrong person we encounter.
It is time we recover some civility in the midst of disagreement.
Which means we need to hear the other side. Not just take in their words, but actually process what they are saying. Why do they hold the positions they hold? How did they come to that conclusion? What experiences have brought them to this point?
It is easier to just unfriend or unfollow people. It is easier to watch only the news channel that reports from our preferred angle. To dismiss alternate opinions and brush aside any information contrary to what we already believe.
The consequence is we end up living in an echo chamber where the only voices we hear are the ones that sound like ours. This makes us more polarized and deteriorates our capacity to understand people who think differently than we do. We are in trouble if we are so convinced we are right that we can’t even allow other opinions to show up in our newsfeed or on our cable news station. This is a weakness, not a strength.
If we are going to disagree well we will need to listen, actually listen, to what every side has to say. We will be better for it. Our own positions will be strengthened as we learn what others believe and perhaps our well-roundedness will gain us credibility.
If we are going to disagree like adults we will need to stop villainizing people simply because we don’t see eye to eye. I may disagree with you but it doesn’t mean I hate puppies or sunshine or your children. We can do without that nonsense. We may not come to the same conclusions about how taxes should be spent, but I don’t think either of us is trying to destroy our country.
Disagreeing with me doesn’t make you a Neanderthal/jerk/heretic/Nazi/communist/whatever-your-scariest-insult-is. It just makes you wrong. Using blanket statements and hyperbolic terms will get us nowhere. A person is not an idiot just because they have the audacity to disagree with you or me. Sitting behind our keyboards and slinging mud and insults at people we don’t have to look in the face is the cheap way out.
This is not how the real world works. We have to cooperate and live and work and study and worship with people who may disagree with us on any number of issues. They are our friends and spouses and bosses and neighbors. If there is no one in our lives who disagrees with us, we are missing out on meaningful relationships while at the same time not having any influence on people who see the world differently.
If we are to disagree well, we need to be realistic. We need to understand we won’t change everyone’s mind and agreeing to disagree is okay in most situations. We are not likely to convince a person that the positions they’ve held for decades are ignorant and no thinking person would ever come to such conclusions. Some opinions are incredibly complex and have been formed over much time and thought.
Be heard, be prepared (and be kind for crying out loud), but don’t expect a pithy statement or even a heartfelt plea to change someone’s mind. When is the last time an argument in the comment section convinced you that you were wrong? People have been arguing about the things we argue about for a long time. There are smart and caring people on many sides of many issues.
We can do better.
We can be humble. We can sometimes keep our mouths closed and fingers still. We can remember that compromise and finding common ground is not caving. We can think critically. We can allow for others to freely share what they believe. We can learn. We can listen. We can avoid attacking the other person. We can respect and love and esteem each other as fellow human beings. And still disagree.
Disagreeing isn’t the problem. The way in which we disagree will determine much of what we contribute to the world. Are we adding to the discord and division that needlessly rules the internet? Or are we voices of reason and people of respect and decency? Do we sow peace and love or discord and hate?
Let’s be right and wrong with a heaping scoop of decency. Let’s disagree well. Or at least better than we have been recently. Can we at least all agree on that?