Most people would like to consider themselves open-minded. I don’t think it’s a terrible goal for one to have for oneself, especially if you plan to be a bridge-builder or reconciler…or just a decent person. The only problem is that I’ve recently discovered this personality trait to be so much harder to attain than I initially realized.
With all the happenings of the past week and the various social media debates, from the comical salt v. sugar in your grits to the more serious story of the gorilla who was killed because a child somehow ended up in his enclosure at a zoo, I have seen an influx of strong opinions that have ranged from flat out goofy to personal attacks on people’s opinions. I’ve read the back and forth and I’ve tried to practice emotional regulation, which is the act of being constantly aware of the fluctuations in your emotions and instituting techniques to control that fluctuation. In other words, it’s doing what you need to do to in order not to let your emotions get the best of you.
So I’ve tried to just sit back and observe…and not say anything (which has been a greater task than I’d usually admit). I went through and I read people’s comments (or super long monologues in some cases). I read how people responded to others who agreed with them and I also read how people responded to those who had a differing opinion than their own. The conclusion I was able to come to is this – most of us kinda suck at communicating and none of us are as open-minded as we’d like to think (myself included on both accounts).
Does that make us horrible? No. Does that make us very human? Yes. What I think it says more than anything is that there is a part of all of us that is just wired for community with commonalities. That looks different depending on the case but it certainly highlights what could be considered a flaw – we like being surrounded by people who agree with us. And sometimes we’ll share our opinions, no matter how alone we think we may be in holding these opinions, so that we can gage if we are truly by ourselves or if we have some support. It’s not all of the time but I’m guessing most of us have done it at one time or another. Our intentions are exposed when someone who doesn’t agree with us shares their opinion and our response to that differing opinion says more than we think. Because just like in most of interpersonal interactions, many of us listen only to respond and not to truly hear what the other person is saying. No place is this more annoying than on social media.
I can’t say I did a great job with emotional regulating (internally). I even posted a status that [passively-aggressively] expressed my dismay at what I was saying (I know my flaws…but I did manage not to unfollow anybody. Huzzah!). But what was the most interesting to me about this whole little experiment was my own growing desire to disengage with folks who had differing opinions from myself. It was not simply the differing of opinion that bothered me; it was the way in which it was expressed and defended. People can be arrogant and rude in the cockiness of knowledge; I see from my conservative friends as well as my liberal friends. And it made me wonder just how open are any of us to something/some ideal/some person that’s different us and what we hold to.
It also made me think about the causes that we champion and what we advocate for. All of us have certain causes that we defend because of whatever reasons that naturally endear us to those causes. But there are many of us who do not think outside of those things that directly benefit us, to which I have to ask – how open are we if we only care deeply about things that affect us? Things that feed our own souls? Things that give us a sense of belonging or fulfillment? When is the last time that I have taken the time to talk to someone to get to understand them and through empathy, stand with them though it may have nothing to do with me? I just wonder.
The social scientist in me is always observing. And THANK GOD the discernment of my mother taught me not to expose everything I see or know. But the way my observations work are the more I observe others, usually the more I can see of myself. The things that made me cringe during this time of observing social media interactions exposed to me the things I know I struggle with myself. And sometimes that’s where the intense reaction comes from – it comes from recognizing yourself (or even a former part of yourself) in someone else and not being able to push it under the rug. It comes from that beautiful struggle of self-actualization and being willing to extend grace to yourself by extending grace to others. It comes from that reminder that being right really isn’t everything but the bigger goal is understanding or respect or decency or openness or [whatever].
I used to thrive on my openness, primarily because I am at the most liberal point in my life. But liberality doesn’t necessarily mean open; it means a different viewpoint that at this point in time is more generally accepted (deeeeeepending on who you ask). My views have evolved and I am [generally] more accepting and less judgmental, which is a great thing. But as I found out this weekend, it’s way easier to shut down to contrary things than we may think…and it can happen in a flash. A lot of what we “discuss” isn’t even a matter of right and wrong; it’s a matter of opinion that we make into right and wrong. And for whatever reason, it still gets us talking
to at each other. I guess that’s a good thing.
I think I should also be clear – learning how to pick your battles is a gift from God. 78%* of the interactions I saw didn’t even have to escalate the way they did (either by responses or by passive-aggressive posts that followed said interactions). But knowing when and how to engage and when to gracefully, as my Brown would say, throw the UnoSkip card down on a matter is key. So now I’m gonna unplug for a few days to detox and practice self-care…after I promote this blog post on my social media networks *inserts emoji with the shades*.
I leave you with this quote from Ding’s (2016) article entitled, Mark Zuckerberg leads the way in “filter bubble” world: don’t ignore people you disagree with:
When you listen to others, even people you cannot imagine agreeing with, you’ll find that people don’t try to be ignorant, dumb, or evil, despite what you may think. They just have differing points of views than you. After all, nobody thinks they’re wrong. With each person having their own unique perspective, it is their voice that allows your to understand a problem more thoroughly. You must protect everyone’s right to say their thoughts event when it goes against what you think. It is not generous to do so, it is necessary – if we are to evolve as a society that constantly improves.
I’m interested in your thoughts. Let me know what you think in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*not a real statistic. Utilizing the facetious part of my brain because I’ve been taking myself and everyone else too seriously the past few days. Walk with God, Crispy.