I was having a conversation with an acquaintance last week about some topics that are usually politically divisive, and highly controversial. Most people think they know the answer and they have no shortage of opinions on these matters.
I am obviously not above this. I have ideas and opinions about social programs designed to help those less fortunate, just like anyone else. I can be quite passionate about those ideas and opinions, as well. Usually, though when I am speaking to someone in person I do a lot of listening, more than talking. I might interject a few questions, or thoughts, but mostly I listen. It's not often that I've ever heard the extreme opinions voiced in person as I have online. It's almost never, especially if the person speaking isn't sure what the listener's stance is. They will kind of dance around, and be more cautious with the generalized terms and blanket statements. That tells me that they know the difference between what they say when in their own company and what they know is true.
The internet has changed the way we communicate. It allows us instant connections to anyone and everyone all the time. It isn't the same as reading a newspaper article 30 years ago and thinking about how you might feel about it and then maybe, discussing it with a family member or acquaintance who, chances are is more aligned to your own culture and beliefs than not. We weren't faced with wildly opposing opinions and ideas on a daily, maybe even hourly basis. This was not necessarily a good thing. It was just the way it was. Exposure to other cultures and beliefs was minimal. Group think was also a tool for survival, because being a part of a social group meant having support. Even if you didn't agree with or like certain activities a person might still participate in order to remain intact to their immediate social group.
An example of that would be my late grandmother in law who told me that she used to attend coffee time with all the other ladies in their neighborhood as they gathered to watch soap operas. She abhorred soaps, but to turn down the invite would be rude. She'd be left out of the circle and being left out of the circle came with consequences. All the men in the neighborhood worked long days and sometimes weeks on oil rigs. There were long stretches of time that these ladies would be on their own, and sometimes without enough money to get by until their husbands returned. Camaraderie in this situation would prove to be in everyone's best interest. They would frequently get together to share food to make meals out of what could be be gathered from everyone's kitchen, as well as help each other with child minding, ect... My grandmother in law would proudly state that no one ever went hungry. They all came together to help each other in times of need. They saw the benefit of cooperation and the understanding that all is one and one is all.
I'm not about to say that I am in deep friendship and cooperation with my neighbors. I don't know any of them and they don't know me and we have always found that to be good enough. It's a shame, as I think about the way things were years ago and I wonder how that felt. So many of us are more connected than ever, but reporting to be more lonely than ever, too. I would never discount internet friendships, or the many wonderful ways social media has brought people together, and made positive differences for all of us. It's just that somehow I feel we are further away than we ever used to be from in person, supportive social circles that also have a positive impact on daily lives. As introverted as I am, I can't help but sometimes envy that closeness, that support, and that feeling of belonging that my grandmother in law must've felt sixty some years ago.
One thing that I do know is that the world needs more of that again. We need more of us to put aside our personal differences and work for the greater good of all. When the well being of individuals is raised, it raises the collective well being of all humans. When we support each other, have compassion with each other and genuinely care for others we make a positive impact on their overall feelings of self-worth and perceptions, which carries on to everyone they come into contact with. Maybe, they become better parents, who raise happier kids, who are going to become better, more compassionate people as adults than the last generation because of it. It's so easy to point out the wrongs everyone is doing, but it's so much harder to encourage and put ourselves out there to help without judgment, or expectation.
Something that I have been doing lately as an exercise of better, more empathetic communication is to not say rude things to people online that I wouldn't say to their face. I don't mean not being a troll. I mean, I stop and reread what I wrote before I press send as I imagine saying it out loud to the person I am replying to. If what I hear feels cringey, rude or just uselessly negative I reword it. If I would not say it to that person's face, I don't say it electronically, either. It's not about who deserves to hear what, or who is worse than the other. If what I have to say isn't pared down to what I would realistically be comfortable verbally speaking while looking at someone in real time I don't press send. I find a better way to express myself, or decline to comment. Not every comment box is for me to spew my two cents in. I'm okay just feeling irritated and moving on without sharing my thoughts with others, sometimes.
I'm guilty of judgment. I'm passionate and quite blunt. What I might say to a person's face is probably above what most would. Ha ha. Still, what is my fire worth if all I do is use it to burn others? My anger and feelings of social injustice will be all for not if all I do is scream at my supposed opponents. Tempering my emotions into workable action would be more beneficial to everyone and that is what I aspire to do; bring the frequency up, instead of contributing to pulling it down.