I have a four-year old that is learning to spot differences between people, asks honest questions, and doesn’t have much of a filter. She asks about the big scar on my arm, has said that someone is “fat”, and noticed when someone is missing a limb. We had conversations about all of these things; she accepts and seems satisfied with my answers. I appreciate her honesty, her curiosity, and her willingness to listen. She has friends from different socioeconomic, cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds. She has friends that are girls and boys, but the only boy she wants to kiss is her Daddy.
While I try to teach her not to judge based on appearances, I could never expect her to not see differences between people. People’s differences are pretty cool. She’s too young to judge who she likes or doesn’t like by any other qualities other than who is nice and who is mean.
I have nearly forty years of personal experiences, including the influences of peers and teachings of my parents. I have comfortably settled into my tenets and have a belief system that works for me, but admit that I am still learning and shaping opinions. The people who I have met (and continue to meet) through my jobs and everyday dealings and the conversations that I’ve had with those that are the most different (or so I thought) than me have opened my eyes. I learn a lot about empathy and finding the common denominator through these encounters.
Enter social media. It seems as though there are very separate “camps” of people. Left wing, right wing, racists, instigators. Everyone needs to pick a side, have an opinion, have an argument ready to go. Everyone is fighting to be heard; everyone is just, well, ready to fight. It seems that there are tons of people who are raging jerks, hell-bent on trying to prove a point or in the mood to start a firestorm. (I mean, it does seem like there are a lot of these incredibly opinionated people, right?) However, I’m guessing that there are actually fewer of these people than it seems. I firmly believe that the Internet and venues where conversation can be held via keyboard put a magnifying glass on these extreme personalities. We read comments and one-sided, unreliable “news” stories and op-eds and get all stirred up. And then we put down our phones or walk away from our computers and are left feeling edgy, sensitive, and defensive. Sometimes it feels as though people just can’t get along.
So I tend to say nothing at all on social media. I don’t want to argue. And I’m sure most of you don’t either. Because an originally well-intended comment may walk a thin line of being finger-wagging, incendiary, or passive aggressive. Have I made thinly veiled attempts to be right and shove my opinion down someone’s throat? Honestly? Uhhhh, yes. But now I usually don’t post at all. Because nearly everyone is offended by something. And even I know that I could easily be incensed by approximately 4 in 10 comments if I took some stranger’s opinion to heart.
So why is it that I find myself in situations on a daily basis that put me in touch with people of different financial statuses, backgrounds, opinions, and cultures and there is no arguing? I find that there are more people IN REAL LIFE that are sharing the same desire to get along, to hold the door open for one another, to share a laugh about New England weather. Just simple human stuff. People show more curiosity and better listening skills in real life conversations. I’ve shared way more touching moments through eye contact, random “hellos” and waves with total and complete strangers than I would have online.
Look, social media can and has been a vehicle for change — there’s no question about this. And sometimes people need to get really angry to be made aware of stuff. But it’s also a breeding ground for arguments. There’s no one right way and one wrong way. And an individual’s opinion is very unlikely to change after hearing my incredibly compelling argument that makes perfect sense to me. I can’t tell you how much more understanding, compassion, and empathy blooms out of listening and laying down the need to be right. And I’m constantly reminded of it when I take the time.
So, maybe it’s time to take a lesson from the four-year olds. Embrace curiosity, hone listening skills, make friends. Change is a slow process, but it needs to begin somewhere.
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.” –Desiderata