Friday, June 26, 2015

One Rule That Would Change the Internet

Days like today, Facebook makes me queasy.

With the SCOTUS decision to make same sex marriage the law of the land, there was no way my news feed wasn't going to blow up with strong opinions on both sides.

And it's not just this issue. Pick any other big news day and the same thing will happen. It's not the strong opinions that bother me. (I have a few of my own.) It's the way we express them. We seem to have lost our collective ability to do anything other than preach to the choir. Conservative or Progressive, we all do it.

You may be partially right. You may even be all right. But what good does it do to take a tone that says, "Here, folks, is the plain, simple truth of the matter, and anyone who doesn't see it my way is an idiot / backward / hateful / ignorant"? Doing so may get you lots of likes, shares and pats on the back from people WHO ALREADY AGREE WITH YOU (hello Matt Walsh), but does it accomplish anything else? I can't think of much.

So here's what I propose: What if we spread a new rule of thumb for social media?

Before you hit "post," consider: 

Have I just said something that will only be exciting to people who already agree with me? 

Might I, rather, rephrase my opinion in a way that people on "the other side" can at least respect? Can I post something that invites those people into a conversation, rather than giving them another reason to write me off? 

When I asked that question this morning, someone responded by asking me to give an example. What I ended up thinking of instead are some principles for speaking and writing this way:
  1. Use terms that the other side can respect. Ones that they would use for themselves. (Yes, even if you take issue with the grounds for the terms.) Don't say "pro-abortion," say, "pro-choice." Don't say "anti-gay," say, "pro-traditional marriage." Yes, we need labels to make conversation manageable, but nobody likes to be called a name she wouldn't choose for herself.

  2. Anticipate parts of your argument that might be offensive to those listening. This means you have to work to understand the other position, so you will know what's offensive and what's not. When you identify something potentially offensive, ask yourself, "Is this the root issue I'm trying to get at?" If so, proceed, but do so in a way that humbly asks, "Can you help me to understand why you believe this way?" If the offensive thing isn't the real issue, leave it out!!

  3. Remember that the goal is (together!) to get at the best description of reality and learn how to live, in love, in light of it. I think that's an aim most of us would agree on. En route to it, we will have major points of disagreement to navigate. And I'm not one who believes that everyone gets to make up their own version of reality. (You can say you believe that, but you can't actually live that way.) So the road is hard, for sure, but having a common goal is helpful. 
Why don't we do these things? Probably because they're A LOT OF WORK and we, as a society, are lazy. We want to say what makes us feel better / morally superior / vindicated without regard for the effect of our words on others and on culture as a whole. 

For once, let's strive for civil discourse that's actually civil. And actually discourse. There's still time to do it today. Maybe go back and re-read what you wrote already in light of this thought. Maybe challenge someone in your "camp" whose post was particularly inflammatory to do the same. 

And if it feels like today already got away from you, don't worry, tomorrow's news will give you a chance to try again. 

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