If you don't think our nation has waded into dangerously divided waters, allow me to push aside that big gnarly rock you've been living under and introduce you to this trendy little thing called the Internet.
I will advise you to practice caution if living in that underground bunker has caused you to be easily nauseated by spinning sensations.
It's brutal. It's name-calling and bullying and condescension and defensiveness and aggressive language. Quite frankly, it reflects the usual tone the latest Commander in Chief takes, 140 characters a time.
Or, perhaps his tone is reflecting ours.
It's dizzying and upsetting and so we retreat to the safety of our happy little echo-chambers. We block or unfriend those who post a spin that doesn't align with our ideals or our narrative just so we can sleep better at night.
We argue over lives that matter for fuck's sake! People! Listen to yourselves!!
(SIDENOTE: If you don't understand why saying 'All Lives Matter' out loud makes you sound racist, we can certainly chat about that later).
There are plenty of theories trying make sense of how America became such an angry and confusing place; a place where a sort of lower-case kkk has emerged (thanks Aziz!) and people are somehow so numbed to the hateful rhetoric, we've hardly even noticed.
Maybe it boils down to our life-lens and the impact our basic levels of security have on those goggles we don each morning. We look out from lenses tinted by our experiences and our support systems; or lack thereof. Some of us feel secure and some of us just don't. Some of us long for a time when we felt more secure and spend lots of energy looking for who to blame for that loss.
Anyone who's ever been in 5th grade understands how insecurities can breed bullying behavior. Although, in the interest of fairness, a version of bullying can also come in forms of condescension by those who feel their life lens is more accurate and lack the tolerance or patience to gently address ignorance or opposing viewpoints.
Additionally, to be informed in this complicated era means you need hours to devote to reading, listening, and watching the vast influx of media options. And to be informed in a real and meaningful way means being able to filter through the smelly sludge that is the partisan bull crap that floats around, stinking up real, legitimate news sources
. You have to be able to spot a spin but also an outright falsehood, and that's not easy for a novice consumer or for someone without a lot of extra time to vet their sources. We feed our own narratives with whatever click-bait BS we come across, because nobody is comfortable with cognitive dissonance. Then we cry 'fake news' when something doesn't align. (This is DANGEROUS, but that is a big issue for another post).
Politics are sticky. Policy issues and party platforms will forever be in debate. We all have different experiences and different ideologies and that will forever inspire disagreements and play out in party legislation tipping one way and the other. And that, my friends, is DEMOCRACY.
However, if we all just stick our fingers in our own ears until we can find refuge in a sound-proof echo-chamber, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and our fellow Americans. We need to be able to speak to each other in a productive way. We need to somehow find a way to step across this deep divide and start talking civilly to each other. Treating opposing viewpoints with respect and engaging in honest and dignified debate is really the only way we can come to reasonable conclusions on how to move forward.
In the days after an inauguration address where the incoming president has painted our country as a bleak and deeply damaged place and doesn't appear to give much play to healing our great divides. In contrast to the apparent agenda of our new leader, we, as citizens need to find it in ourselves to knock down a few walls and build some bridges.
I was fortunate to overhear such articulate discourse very recently and I was inspired. I have vowed personally to block less and engage more. But, I am setting some ground rules for myself. I want to be effective and also respectful. It is my hope that I can articulate myself and my feelings but also try to take something away from this experiment in civil discourse.
Here are the ground rules I have come up with thus far:
- Listen WELL and with a neutral ear. Don't let your biases get in the way of hearing what the other speaker is saying. Don't dismiss the alternate viewpoint, try to understand it.
- Don't make it personal. Attacking the person instead of the idea only evokes anger and shuts down my credibility. Also, assuming my verbal adversary is innately evil based on a political affiliation will shut down my ability to engage productively.
- Don't take it personally. Just because someone disagrees with me, doesn't mean they hate me. If I take it that way, it will distract me from the conversation and set me unnecessarily into defensive or offensive mode...and it's almost assuredly an untrue assumption anyways (because I'm so damn likable).
- Don't be afraid to be uncomfortable. These are squirm-in-your-seat sort of topics. Be ready to squirm a little.
- Watch out for broad generalizations and stereotyping. Labeling my conversation mate was a 'lib-tard' or a 'conservative knuckle-dragger' is counterproductive and mean-spirited.
- Fact check and site only credible sources (NOTE: the 'mainstream media' will always carry greater creidibility than that blog post your cousin re-tweeted, even the 'liberal media' and yes, even Fox News).
- Find the common ground. It's there. We just need to unearth it.
- Take caution inside my happy echo-chamber. If I see someone crossing the line or propagating false intel, speak up. We need to raise the bar here.
- Be willing to step outside my own experiences to understand his or hers. If we can't kick our own shoes off for a minute, we'll never understand how someone else's might feel. NOTE: my shoes have always been fairly sensible and comfortable, so I can't assume that to be the case with everyone.
- Be passionate, but don't lose my cool. If my talking buddy sees I care, that's a perk. But if they see I'm hysterical, it will work against me.
- Avoid snark. This one is gonna be tough, so I bolded it. Still, if I want to be taken seriously, I suppose I'll have to act like an adult. It's too bad too, because in college I Minored in Smart-Ass Comments.
- Be open to learning something new (but be sure to have healthy criticism, use good judgement, and fact-check!!). Guess what, I don't know everything, and neither do you. If you're currently thinking 'you don't know me, I do know everything!' Then stop reading and Google 'Dunning-Kruger Effect' before you read even one more word of this post...I'll wait.
- Remember, we may disagree with how to get there, or what it looks like exactly; but we are all ultimately rooting for our nation's success. If America loses, we all lose.
I pledge to stick with this list. I vow to spend less time hiding out in my happy little private like-thinking groups and more time engaging with those people on he other side of the great divide. And I promise to do it with dignity.
Finally, in an effort to end on a note of levity, here are some things I believe we can all completely agree upon without hesitation:
- Calliou is a devil spawn.
- Taco Bell is essentially an endless combination of 4-5 basic ingredients and only good at 2am; and even then, only if you're as inebriated as the kids working the drive thru.
- Matching socks and folding fitted sheets are tasks equally suited to drive a person into a clinical state of lunacy.
- Everything is better battered and fried.
- Cable prices are bullshit.
- Social media felt a lot friendlier when it was mostly just people sharing cat videos.
- Something like 1 in 3 adults 'doesn't drink tequila anymore' because 'of that one time back in college.'
- If you're a working parent with young children, you have definitely spent at least day at work unknowingly wearing your child's boogers smeared across a sleeve or pant leg.
- Thin crust pizza is an utter waste of time......
.....I stand firmly on that last one, even if it gets me killed someday.