The divisive ideological culture that we have in the U.S. appears to be getting worse with time. It’s been growing on my mind, that more than anything else this might be the biggest problem we face in this country. Because that “other side” isn’t going to magically disappear, and the very serious problems we face in this country are only going to be solved through coming together and bridging the gap that separates us. I’ll admit that I am at a loss at how to effectively do this, but one thing has caught my eye, that I think might help.
One thing is that I think we have to stop posting things on social media that are just negative sound bites of what politicians or what celebrities say. I think just the absolute large exposure of hateful and/or negative messages legitimizes the hate more than it does make it go away. And the exposure might get around to some people that might not normally have seen it and those people might say “Hey, I actually think this hateful message might be right and not hateful.” More importantly the key is how do we diminish the impact of such messages, I think one of those things is to literally ignore it. Some of these things are so ridiculous that we literally waste our time sharing it and trying to shame the message. There is a blogger on patheos that I follow called the Friendly Atheist. As well-meaning as he is, he often brings up ridiculous things that are being said by small time pastors in small communities in the south, and now all of a sudden people are seeing it all over who follow him. Now most who would follow this blogger will be like yeah, this pastor is an idiot, but some people follow atheist bloggers to argue, and to show their followers the ridiculous stuff the “other side” is saying. Now a story that might not have gone beyond a local community or anywhere is bring spread around the country. That’s not good.
Now I know you are probably saying, “well it’s important that these terrible ideas are challenged, and thus we must say something!”. I don’t mean to argue that we shouldn’t oppose such things, and so before I address this, I want to add one more thing that is also I think unhelpful and leads into what I think is a better way to oppose. The inspiration for this post came from an article that a friend posted yesterday. A very compassionate and comparing individual, and I am sure we all know such people and the article was titled “While Trump Spews Hate, These Muslims Just Raised $100,000 for San Bernardino Victims”. Now compare this to this article “Muslims Raise Funds for Families of San Bernardino Victims”. Can you spot the difference in the titles? Not only that, nowhere in the second article do we see an attack on those who are prejudiced against Muslims. Now you might say well shouldn’t a good article represents both sides? Not necessarily, because this article is simply reporting a reaction by the Muslim community to help the victims. This is objective reporting. Now if there were Muslim communities that were cheering, than yes it would be important to report that too, but my point is that when you read the headline of the first article there is an attack on Trump and his supporters. Those who support Trump will immediately have a physical reaction that will prevent them from effectively ingesting the good works done by the Muslim. I have written about this before and this is sometimes referred to as the “backfire effect”. Now I am not saying all hateful messages shouldn’t be addressed, but most sound bites are hardly substantive. We make all sorts of rational arguments about why they are wrong, but the sound bite itself (which sometimes is even out of context) contains no substance and thus from a rebuttal standpoint requires little substance in return. And when we post that message it makes those who might support that message simply feel attacked and thus less likely to listen to all your rational arguments. But when hateful or negative messages are spread with substance, by all means a substantive response is important. But maybe this is best addressed in an op-ed to your local paper, or a blog rather than Facebook or Twitter.
What I suggest is simply posting the positive message when you are outraged by something. Don’t post an article about what some hateful pastor has said in a rural community in Alabama, but perhaps post an article about what more progressive pastors are saying that would lead to increased tolerance and inclusion. Post the rational arguments instead of only posting them in response to something ridiculous that is said. If what you consider to be a negative and/or hateful message has merit, force those who support it to make their own substantive arguments to rationalize it. Force them to think. What I find is that even if I agree with you, I might get angrier and such an emotional state does not help me either in terms of seeing us a group who has to work together and I feel more helpless at how divided we are, even if I do feel that my friends are on my side.
My thoughts here are not meant to be judgmental, but rather a call to action for others as well as myself because I know I have been guilty of this at times too. It’s easy to let our outrage get the better of us. There is a lot of it out there today. But most people, I think, would rather get along with their fellow man and a friend than an enemy. This is one thing we all have in common. So the next time you get upset, think about how you can spread the rational and the positive, without spreading the anger, the outrage and the remarks that attack rather than inform.