At some point in the last year, I stopped watching the news and changed the way I interact with social media. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the primary ones is how people behave, react, and express their opinions in these media. I am consistently amazed at how people will treat others or their ideas in these places, how they are absolutely certain of their own beliefs, and the number of times logical consistency seems to be thrown out the window.
I should state here that I am not opposed to strongly held beliefs. Personally, I hold many beliefs very strongly, but I feel that evidence and actual logical argument could lead me to change these beliefs. Certainty to me is an ever-elusive concept in many ways (perhaps an aspect of something deeper in my personality), and I think that there are too many possibilities for me to be wrong or for new information to be presented to hold my beliefs blindly without listening to other ideas.
I often feel that I’m on a quest for an incomprehensible amount of knowledge to verify my beliefs and worldview. An unfortunate aspect that I’ve seen too many times to count in media (TV or social) is a person saying something (or even liking something) with an obvious lack of knowledge about a subject or with seemingly little or skewed evidence to support their statements. I do what I can to empathize with and understand what other people are thinking, but sometimes I really have difficulty doing so (perhaps a mark of my own certainty with approaching information).
A concept that author John Green has often discussed and that I appreciate is the idea of “mutual generosity.” Green often uses this thought in the context of a romantic relationship, but it extends into all of our relationships. Continuing to approach others without a generous demeanor, a position of humility and forgiveness, a continued attempt to connect and understand a person, is to not actually fully see or interact with that person; to force assumptions on them; to interact as though there is not actual interest in the person as themself. It is obviously worth noting that the “mutual” in the phrase refers to both parties participating in the generosity, but we need to acknowledge that we are one of the parties, and we do not get to get out of approaching relationships with that generosity.
I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect (or even necessarily good) at mutual generosity in relationships, or in entertaining ideas different from my own. Although I do not enjoy buzzwords, I am fully aware of the “echo chamber” effect present in social media, and see a fair share of that echo chamber present in what I participate in and how I participate with media. I am a very non-confrontational person, and would rather not see disagreements or things I disagree with so that I can avoid any potential or even perceived conflict.
This is not how the world should work. How can we grow if there is no conflict, no actual sharing of ideas? How can we understand different beliefs or the people who hold them if we create the perception of the person or idea amongst ourselves? It is not possible to know a person or a thing without interacting with them or it. To return to the thought of people not knowing what they’re talking about, it pains me to see people who are against my view and people who are for my views presenting these arguments. Echo chambers in and of themselves are not great, but when we send false information into these chambers, it can only lead to worse assumptions and beliefs, with potential for actual chaos.
While I wish I could say these thoughts stand on their own merit (and they deserve to), this post actually serves as a caveat. Over the next few days (and, really, for the rest of my life) I plan to write about some topics of which I hold some fairly strong beliefs. These beliefs are founded in my worldview, potentially stand in opposition to the beliefs of people I know, and possibly with people and groups who would be more likely to be on “my side.” There is more complexity to many different ideas and realities than many people are willing to wade through, and I would like to explore some of this complexity. I will fully admit in advance that I will be wrong about some things, and that some of my ideas have come through misconstrued understandings. I also fully expect my thoughts to be misconstrued by others. Language and written word is a great way to communicate, but much is lost when not seated face to face with those we are talking to.
I will also admit here to some difficulty in taking criticism or correction, but I welcome those who will approach any issues with generosity and with understanding. I will do what I can to approach you in the same way. This could be seen by some (at least, from what I’ve heard) as some weak, millennial nonsense and needing a safe place to interact with the world, but I’ve found that treating others as I would like to be treated has made life much easier to get through (and the concept is biblical, so…).
My heart breaks to see the lack of mutual generosity in internet and other media discourse, especially when people are being hurt by words and actions spawned in these places. My heart also breaks for a lack of truth present in these arenas. While it may be a grand thought or lofty goal to bring peace, humility, truth, and generosity into these places, I will do what I can to create a place for these ideas to become realities, and to continue to be open to new ideas and to my own shortcomings in what I say and think.