Have That Difficult Conversation

Difficult conversations should not be shied away from. Rather, they should be embraced with the intent of arriving at a more educated position. We cannot expect to arrive at, or maintain, a healthy culture if we are afraid to discuss important topics. As awkward as it may feel at times, this is best done face-to-face. Big change, cultural change, doesn’t always start in a virtual public square such as Twitter or Facebook. Politicians might sign certain things into law or make laws to regulate something, but it doesn’t start with them. Oftentimes it starts in your own home and backyard. Our families, friends, and neighbors are the rising thermals that create the winds of change.

Social Media Doesn’t Change Foundations Of Thought

Tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of people flock to their preferred social media each day. This inevitably makes virtual places such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. a desirable destination for those who wish to change minds. Whether it’s politics, human rights, the “best” dieting habits, or who the greatest basketball player of all-time is, you can find individuals pushing their beliefs and opinions. When beliefs and opinions are being pushed on social media platforms, it is often done in an absolute, uncompromising way. What I mean is those who are doing the pushing make it clear that they are right and dissenters are wrong. This can stifle discussion on the topic and make others feel ostracized or demonized.

Now, I understand that there is such a thing as a moral absolute. However, most topics that are widely spoken of do not possess an absolute right or wrong answer. Murder is absolutely wrong. Using plastic straws is not absolutely wrong. Yet, I can find people on Twitter that believe I am inviting doom upon mankind by using plastic straws. They will call me evil, selfish, and a rapist of the Earth. No room is left for discussion as to whether their reasons are valid or for potential alternatives to whatever scientific studies they cite. They claim the science is settled and that those who disagree with them are “science deniers.”

The Poison Of Anonymity

The anonymous nature of social media enables people to easily dismiss or demonize those they disagree with. There is often no face, or further understanding of the individual’s character or personality, to get in the way of whatever label we wish to place upon them. Social media makes it easy to reduce people to a single idea, belief, or category. We forget, or perhaps ignore, that people are more complicated and nuanced than that. This is a sad and regrettable reality, and we need to intentionally fight against it. We mustn’t allow ourselves to fall into the trap of dehumanizing or demonizing individuals simply because they threaten our beliefs or opinions.

Character Limitations And Lack Of Nuance Of Text

Another major fault of social media which keeps it from being a constructive vehicle for positive cultural change, are the character limits and misunderstandings. Twitter places a limitation of 280 characters in a single tweet. One can get around this by stringing together multiple tweets and creating a “thread.” However, this is often clumsy and most people don’t read past the first tweet in a thread. Therefore, your entire message goes unread and not understood or considered. Obviously, this is not conducive to holding a meaningful conversation that might change minds.

Even in a face-to-face conversation, complete with facial expressions and vocal inflections, messages can be misunderstood. However, when a conversation or message is reduced to a read only format, misunderstandings multiply like rabbits. Perhaps the most tragic casualty of this is, is sarcasm. I frequently see individuals on social media failing to understand it. This usually leads to harsh responses that paint people into corners and then a refusal to acknowledge they misunderstood anything.

In-Person Conversations Are More Effective

It can be difficult to speak with family members about certain topics, especially when you know there is disagreement afoot. However, we are more likely to be civil with people we know in our day-to-day lives. We see and understand more about these individuals. For example, you might have an aunt that supports a politician you greatly dislike, but she also has a passion for helping abandoned kittens. This knowledge makes it more difficult to write off your aunt as an insensitive or evil person. You are then more likely to extend a civil and understanding mind toward her during discussions. Which in turn makes you both more likely to reach a useful and constructive conclusion. In time, it may even lead to the changing of hearts and perspectives.

Don’t be afraid of discussing the uncomfortable topics either, evil hides in darkness. Bring things into the light and talk about them in an honest way. Pursue truth at the expense of your desired outcome. That doesn’t mean you need to be a leaf in the wind, or that you can’t be firm in your beliefs. However, we need to be aware of the limitations of our understanding and the reality that someone else may see something we have missed. Not only will this help us find the truth more often, but it can also help us refine our beliefs and opinions. If we never test our beliefs and opinions through healthy discussion, how can we expect to grow?

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