When I went to college at Kutztown University, the administration there was on this big diversity kick. It was the early ’90s and diversity was one of those words you heard everywhere. And, to be clear, I was fine with it. I like people, especially people not identical to me.
In the midst of this diversity campaign, a friend of mine jokingly – and half seriously, I might add – proclaimed “Cultural Diversity: Bringing Us Closer Together By Emphasizing How Little We Actually Have In Common!” We laughed.
I am not laughing any more.
Today another friend of mine from college made a comment on a Facebook post I had put up that included an article. The article in question was talking about how, in the author’s point of view, Republicans don’t understand what Christianity is really about. You can see the full article here.
I put this on my own Facebook page, not anyone elses. I left no comments containing my personal views. My friend saw it on my page, was upset by it, and left comments, which is fine. But the last line of one of her comments struck me as a point I needed to discuss, because apparently there are several people in the world who aren’t understanding why I do what I do.
She asked me “Why do you continue to share this divisive tripe?” That is a very telling question. It informs the astute reader about what is happening across large swaths of American culture as we speak. I’m confident that it’s happening all across the globe, but I have no way of proving that.
Allow me to explain what I mean.
We are all of us building our own personal isolation chambers. In these chambers we choose again and again to only view information that supports what we already believe. We seek out others who share the same views as us, and in this incestuous culture we repeat the same self-affirming statements to each other. Those who are not like us are to be reviled and ridiculed. Our close circle of sycophants pant in the darkness “You see, we were right all along!”
This, to be plain, is the death of culture. Culture is a set of values shared by a social group. However, not every idea is accepted by every member of that culture, and new ideas are introduced all the time. Think quickly of the culture in America before 9/11 and after that cowardly attack. The culture changed because new data entered the conversation.
But in our little isolation chambers, we’re excluding all external data that might go against our pre-existing views. In other words, people are afraid to listen to what threatens their belief system because they use that belief system to hide from what frightens them. Or at least that’s what I’m gathering from my observations and the observations of others. Examples of others’ thoughts on this can be found here, here and here, which is an excellent article on how our actual thinking is changing. And this change means, in part at least, that we don’t have the mental stamina to read in detail anything that isn’t what we already believe. This might be because we’re unable to read in detail anything that isn’t already familiar to us. I’m not sure.
I am sure, however, that we aren’t as able to have a dialogue as we used to. Did you know that, within living memory, secondary school children were taught the basics of debate? They were trained to have conversations with people who didn’t hold their point of view, defend their points, and – are you ready for this? – concede the points of the opponent. It’s hard to imagine that happening on Facebook or on a hot comment thread under a “divisive” article.
To be fair, this friend of mine is one of those who defends her points very well, and I hold her in the highest esteem for that. But on the flip side, I don’t think I’ve heard her say “You know what, Matt? Your point has some merit, and I’ll think about it.” In fact, in all my years on the internet, I’m not sure I’ve ever had someone say that to me.
I’m also not very humble. I want to be, I really do. But I feel my views are valid and, being my views, logically infallible. I will tell you all that I can’t remember the last time I said “You know what, Random InterWebs Person or Friend/Family Member? Your point has some merit, and I’ll think about it.” I confess my sins now before you all, but I can’t promise you I’ll change easily.
And I don’t think that you will change easily, either. But we must change. We must.
I post articles sure to offend people because I am really at a loss for any other way to get entrenched people talking. Mind you, it hasn’t changed anyone’s mind yet, as far as I know. In fact, my wife suggests that it’s making people more entrenched in their isolationist views precisely because they feel I’ve attacked them.
What other option is there? I will find a way to change my mind if the data supports your position. And I swear before the mighty InterWebs now that I will do my level best to listen to any argument you bring to me. But I’m going to demand the same in return. My greatest sin might very well be pride, but that doesn’t mean I am wrong. I might be prideful and correct.
Or perhaps there isn’t any correct to be had in the topic we’re discussing. Is there really, honestly a clear right and wrong in the political debate? Are your views on the bible the only ones that are valid? Are you 100% sure making the Doctor from Doctor Who a female this regeneration is the best option? Can’t we talk about it?
And so I come around full circle to my friend back at college. The one who made the diversity comment. He was right, although he didn’t know it then. The diversity of the InterWebs is truly bringing us closer together only in that we realize we have nothing in common with others. But of course we do. We’re all human. We all bleed. We’re all breathing the same air, toxic though it may be in places.
We need to change. We need to find a way to have dialogue. I need to listen to you, my friend, and you need to listen to me. We don’t have to both be wrong. And we’ll both be better people if we can come to some compromise. But as long as you and I believe our views are the only ones that are correct, the only ones worth listening to, things will get worse. We will live and die in our own personal isolation chambers and, if we’re not very careful, they will turn into our coffins.