It seems like the theme of so many of my posts in recent months has centered on getting along with others, especially those different than us. I wonder how many people are tired of reading about it and are beginning to tune out, but…it’s an important topic. It’s something I encounter so very often. It’s not as if I want to rehash the same thought; it’s that so many issues and experiences seem to move back to that issue. Of course, today’s political and health climate stir up quite a bit of differences.
I’ve thought multiple times about deleting my social media accounts, but how would that help? I don’t think I’m adversarial in my posts (tell me if I’m wrong), so if too many of us who are trying to bridge the gap and respond with respectful, critical thinking leave the conversation, how is that helpful?
There are so many positive aspects of social media. I don’t want to overlook the potential we have to connect with and encourage others, to network and problem-solve. I just don’t think we widely use social media for good. I think we use it as a crutch to vent and affirm ourselves. In the process, we isolate ourselves and others. As connected as we feel, we build an island where everything about us is okay, and those things we don’t like are not okay. (We can also do this without social media, so to those who claim, “That’s why I stay away from social media”…this applies to you, too.)
How can we help the situation, including ourselves and others? Make contact.
When we get together with others who differ from us over coffee or food, they become another person. It’s less adversarial. We’re fellow human beings. When we think about people who are different from us, our minds often quickly go to people who look different than us or perhaps identify with a different political party. Those are important but not the only ways in which we’re different. Think about the type of people who irritate you or offend you. Or perhaps it’s a population of people you just drive or walk by without really noticing?
Think of the topics not so readily at the forefront of our culture. Not that those aren’t important, but I think we excuse a lot when it’s in the news. For example, in the midst racial tension, many will claim how many friends they have of different races, as if that’s going to suffice as a “no discrimination here” stamp. Or during the election, as heated as the presidential race as been, we want to claim how we’ve voted for both parties in the past, or the votes on our ballots are split between parties depending on the race, or we hang out with the “other side.”
Does using a term “the other side” or “across the aisle” not indicate some divisiveness? What about other topics? How many people do you have real conversations with who are in a significantly different economic group? Do you judge the poor—either by assuming they’re in the position due to their own choices or by assuming they have done everything they can and just need additional help to get out of the situation? What if messes bother you; are you willing to strike up a conversation and get to know the neighbor with all the junk in his yard? Maybe you won’t make friends with the super rich, which might have to do with opportunity, but do you judge them for having money, assuming they either got to the position wrongly or are handling it wrong?
Here’s what I’m learning: we all have prejudices. We all judge people more harshly or quickly than is necessary in some situations. Maybe you can see that you’ve changed over time. My experience is even people who have drastically changed, especially when the change was dramatic and swift, simply redirect and reframe some of their attitudes and tactics. If they were harsh and judgmental before, they still are in some ways. It’s just that the focus of that harsh judgment shifts to different groups of people. They might be super understanding and welcoming to the people they rejected in the past, but the people they used to relate to might now become the people they just as harshly reject or demean.
Watch yourself. It’s not just the content of who you’re distancing. That can change more easily than the process. The process of the how often belies the changes in the who.
As we reach beyond our circles, if we’re not careful, we actually narrow our gap of who and what we care for and engage. I know, it’s weird. We widen yet narrow. We shift our legalism and judgment and hypocrisy in the process. What can we do?
Be humble. Be willing to see ourselves. Be willing to converse respectfully with a wide variety of people. Invite accountability. The people who have seen us at our best and worst over time can usually reflect well on our process. Share compassion and understanding and patience for others even if their views are vastly different than ours. It doesn’t mean we have to agree. It is about listening and respecting not just to share our opinions but to listen to others and let those conversations shape us in healthy and truthful ways. We need to not dehumanize people that we disagree with because, in our self-righteousness, we can become the very thing we are rejecting.