It was a rough weekend, this third weekend of September 2016. Bombs, a suspect in custody, an innocent man gunned down for having his vehicle broken down. Politicians of all stations flapping their lips about refugees and terrorism and supporting law enforcement. All the talking head channels want us to think that everything they say is the most important ever.
And the stories trickle down to social media. And the rest of us talk about it. And boy do we talk. And boy do we love to claim that anyone that has a different opinion than us is stupid.
We love to say things like:
If you really believe that…..
….I’ve got a bridge to sell you….
….you’re as bright as a burned out light bulb…..
….dumber than a box of rocks……
Or maybe we’re less aggressive and instead use phrases like “I’m sorry you were triggered because I have a different opinion”. Or some other no-less rude phrase.
All because they disagree. Obviously, we’re smart because our opinion is the best, and everyone else is dumb.
When honestly, we’re all stupid. Few of us see the whole picture, or even try to, and all we really want to do is be right.
I have a picture of the world. An ideal picture of the world based on my experiences, things I’ve read, my religious and political beliefs, and an imagined vision of what the world could be. Based on that ideal picture, I have opinions on things. Stories in the news, things people say, shows on TV… my opinions are mine. Some change easily, like what my favorite movie is, others change less easily, like my political party affiliation.
My opinions are mine, so I believe they are right. Obviously, or I’d change them. And I will defend my opinions because I think they’re right. If I’m writing an essay like this, or giving a speech that’s easy. I state my case and I answer questions.
But social media is different. I can state my opinion in 140 characters or less, then pretty much abuse anyone that comments that they think differently.
I witnessed an exchange from a community member that went like this:
Magzine posts a link about refugees and terrorism.
Community member states the fact that in the case of the bombs in NY and NJ, the suspect was a nationalized American that came to the country when he was 7.
Troll states he was Muslim, that all terrorists are Muslims and therefore all Muslims are terrorist. It’s a ‘pattern’.
Community member states that a religion is not a pattern.
Troll digs in and passive-aggressively apologizes for ‘triggering’ but all Muslims are obviously terrorists.
And from there….
you don’t know what you’re talking about
you’re an idiot if you think that
And so on.
We’ve all done it. We all will do it. We all will continue to do it.
Because we can. Because social media gives us the platform to be anonymous and terrible. Because our boundaries are ours to protect. And no matter how hard we try, at some point, someone is going to cross a boundary that we consider sacred. And that person is an idiot.
And then “love thy neighbor” and all the other rules we try to live by go right out the window. Because we can’t face the person we’re talking to, we can’t sit down with them and actually talk. So we whip out a sentence or two at a time, pretending we’re ‘debating’ when we’re really just wanting to win.
We’re all stupid.
And I hate to say it, even ashamed to say it, but I must admit…..
I love it.
I LOVE it. I love feeling that I made a ‘zinger’ or that I hammered on someone to the point they started ignoring me, or the coup de gras: when I have made them so angry they block me.
Then I won.
I LOVE IT.
So help me, it’s rude, it’s wrong, it’s very un-Christ-like, but I love it.
It’s an addiction.
And I’m hooked.
I think a lot of us are.
And that, right there, is the real problem with discussions on social media. We’re addicted to winning. We are right, and we will be right and when we prove we’re right, either through our opponents’ admission or through getting them to quit, we win.
So let me offer a better way, for you and for me, than winning.
When I was in high school, there was a debate team. We had debate competitions. When we went to these events we didn’t get to choose the topic or the side we were on. For example, we’d go and the judges would have three envelopes. In one was the topic “women in the military” (this was the 80s), in another was “global warming” (yes, we talked about it back then), and in the last was “should Reagan run for re-election”. The judges would pick one at random. Then they’d flip a coin. The “heads” team would argue ‘for’ and the tails team would argue ‘against’. We’d have a heads up before the competition what the topics might be, but we’d have to be prepared to argue either side – no matter what our personal belief might be. You have to remember that this was in the days before the Internet. We had to prepare by doing the research before the event. And once the coin was flipped we had to a couple of minutes to prepare, but that was all. And yes, our goal was to ‘win’ but not necessarily be proving our point, but by being the better debate team.
To simplify, we had to win by knowing the topic better than the other team.
We had to KNOW the topic, both sides, better than the OTHER SIDE.
And social media makes it too easy to no know. It makes it too easy to assume the other side doesn’t know either and just go in guns blazing.
We need to stop that. We need to not jump into the discussion and INSTEAD stop, research, and know.
Even if you never end up responding, it is far better to KNOW. Even if you don’t agree with the other side, you NEED TO KNOW IT. Then, and only then, can you truly understand the issue and know, truly know if you are on the right “side”.
So here’s the challenge. The next time you feel compelled to respond because someone is wrong, stop, count to 10, then read something about the issue. Steer away from opinions and blogs and focus on finding out as much truth about the issue as you can. Take 10, 15 minutes and find as many fact-based links as possible. Then read as many as you can before you respond.
I know, that takes all the fun out it.
But you might learn something.