It used to be that replying to a query was a fairly straightforward process. If someone asked how one would treat a cold the answer would simply be a matter of describing the usual procedures for dealing with a scratchy throat and a runny nose. The questioner would take note, thank the respondent and either use the provided information for future reference or not. In our current times reacting to an inquiry about even a seemingly benign topic can often become a war of words, a heated debate. Somehow every utterance has the potential of becoming an argument.
The world of communication has become a battlefield with rhetorical gladiators duking it out with no intention of considering another person’s point of view. It is a debate contest in which winners are declared and losers humiliated. Socratic discussions and critical thinking often lose to bombast and clever phrases. It makes all the world a show in which utterances deemed to be remarkable often signify nothing. The speakers and writers are not listening to one another but rather waiting impatiently to utter their repartee. Any hope of civil discourse is lost in an endless chattering that ultimately concludes with all of us being losers. Sadly such contests sometimes even destroy relationships.
It seems as though our society has become so politically charged that few topics are safe. The battles for ascendancy in conversations do not allow for depth of understanding. They become duels as deadly as the one that took Alexander Hamilton’s life and left Aaron Burr a man reviled for all of history. There are really no winners in such undertakings and yet there is a contagion of bad mannered response that is fueled by social media and thirty second sound bites. It is as though we have become incapable of paying attention long enough to get to the heart of one another’s beliefs. Instead when we hear someone thinking differently from ourselves we become agitated and begin the process of thinking of ways to quickly change that person’s mind, sometimes by sarcastically insulting them. We kill the messenger of ideas that do not fall in line with our own rather than quietly probing more deeply into reasoning.
I tend to continually set myself up with my honesty. I am intrigued by our differences and I have never believed that I have all the answers. I am often misunderstood by my willingness to adjust my viewpoints after researching ideas that confound me. I suppose that I was influenced by long discussions of profound import that took place between my father and my grandfather. They would sit for hours batting around information and thoughts like sport. Each would listen intently with great pauses between responses as though carefully considering what they had learned from each other. I used to so enjoy being the fly on the wall, the person in the room where their respectful conversations unfolded. From them I learned how to find solutions for the most difficult problems through a deep and remarkable process of back and forth, give and take.
I recently fell for a lethal form of clickbait on Facebook. The advertisement asked a very simple question seemingly wanting little more than a quick response. It wanted to know whom I thought would be a good running mate for Joe Biden. I simply typed a name and posted my answer thinking that no additional words were needed. I saw it as a survey rather than a debate. Hundreds of replies later I had been accused of stupidity, being high, being a hater of America, being uneducated, being naive, being the real problem in our country, being irresponsible and other pejoratives that I would not dignify by repeating them.
It both amused and infuriated me that people would be so insulting and sometimes even cruel to a person whom they had never met. I wondered at the unfounded conclusions regarding my character drawn from my mere utterance of a single name, nothing more. I chose not to respond as perfect strangers tore me apart as though I was a gladiator thrown into a lion’s den with no armor or weapons. I was no more than a nameless, faceless pawn used in a deadly game designed to entertain the masses. It was at this moment that I finally understood the horror of what has become of our society and how we have so badly distorted the ideals of religion and democracy.
We have become victims of the anarchy of words, quick and bruising phrases rather than profound ideas. The masters of snark have invaded the world of discourse. Debates have become vehicles of insult rather than purveyors of information. Psychological anarchy wins over polite thoughtfulness. The soundbite is the coin of the realm and the idea of allowing differing opinions in the same space has become passee. The champions of such stylistics rid themselves of people and even products that do not walk in lockstep with them, narrowing their worldview to the point of danger. There is no one to warn them of mistakes or faulty thinking because they only hear the sounds of their own voices and those in whatever group they have chosen to follow. The world becomes a game of choosing sides with no place to go for those of us who prefer to consider that it is destructive to become tribal rather than diverse.
Our cancel culture is as infectious and deadly as Covid-19. When we no longer allow conflicting possibilities our society and our souls begin to slowly die. We become deaf and blind to anything other than our way and in the process lose the magnificence of variety. We close ourselves into darkness and run away from truth. We begin to believe that we are so perfect that we do not need the counter balance of pros and cons.
Our landscape has been severely changed by those who say nothing but only tell us what they think we wish to hear. Beware of people who are unwilling to admit mistakes because as humans it is inevitable that they will not always get everything right. Beware of people who continually blame and insult others because they actually have nothing constructive to say. Beware of people who rely on pithy phrases and photos to prove their intellectual prowess because they have no depth of understanding. Beware of people who are self righteous because they are afraid of differences. Beware of people who will not pause long enough to listen to and respect all of the points of view because they will demand that everyone else go their way or hit the highway. Beware of people who think that bullying others into submission is a sign of strength because they are actually quite weak. Beware of falling into the trap of continually walking in lockstep with a single idea because it may lead you into a trap.
We have some dire situations right now that we must consider. We have a virus stalking us. We have minorities who are crying for our consideration. We have a criminal justice system in chaos. Our economy is teetering. Our educational system is under assault. Now is not the time for division. Now is the time to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and open our minds.