Diminishing the Hate

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.

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37 thoughts on “Diminishing the Hate

  1. I think this is a very honorable post that will speak to a very narrow audience, simply because of the nature of our brain, and the fear/worry-ridden country that we live in. Studies show that it takes 5-10 positive events to counterbalance one negative event. We are hardwired to emphasize the negative rather than the positive.

    Speaking of backfiring effect, researchers found that people who tend to worry showed a paradoxical backfiring effect in their brains when asked to decrease their negative emotions. The experiments “suggests they have a really hard time putting a positive spin on difficult situations and actually make their negative emotions worse even when they are asked to think positively.

    In his book “The Man who Lied To His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships”, Christopher Nass, a professor of communications at Stanford University, stated that we tend to see people who say negative things as being smarter than those who are positive.

    Regarding negativity bias, a number of studies have suggested that negativity is essentially an attention magnet. In experiments, participants spent longer looking at negative photographs than they did looking at positive photographs. They registered more eye blinks when studying negative words than positive words. Blinking rate has been positively linked to cognitive activity. People tend to think and reason more about negative information.

    Swarn, I’m not sure how we can get around this propensity to be negative, especially when information from our environment reaches the area of our brain associated with fear, aggression, anxiety and disgust (amygdala) twice as fast as the area of our brain (prefrontal cortex) that critically assesses environmental stimulus. Add the backfire effect when told to be positive, and it seems that what was intended to increase our survival rate also has the potential to be our demise.

    How’s that for being positive. (sarcasm)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you Victoria and know a lot of what I am saying is wishful thinking having read some of what you are talking about. I myself notice falling into negativity traps. In the face of many a pro-gun arguments that we are helpless to human nature and that there will always be criminals so we might as well do nothing but to get a gun, I refuse to play helpless. I think a start is to raise consciousness about what we can do and just keep striving towards that goal. 🙂

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  2. Here’s my personal solution! 🙂

    Okay, sorry. I’m not at all wanting to diminish in anyway this wonderful challenge you’ve put to us Swarn. On a more serious dancing parroty-note 😈 … these are my humble thoughts fine Sir…

    Composure in the face of aggression, having tact, respect, integrity, showing dignity toward other’s views and their expressed opinions, are all human traits that must be learned and refined over time. We’re not born with them. We should remind ourselves of these daily if not weekly by improving them, right? How? The obvious wrong action/reaction is to bury-the-head-in-the-sand or move away, avoid or be apathetic, indifferent and become a social recluse. The other obvious wrong action/reaction is what you point out Swarn… fueling the fire or worse, retaliation in kind. Hence, patience and two or three deep breaths to start, maybe some appropriate humour to relax the atmosphere a bit, then perhaps politely verbalizing the value of their input/feedback…even pointing out any of their good points — you do this Swarn 😉 — but then politely wording your own POV if it differs. In my crisis management training (psych suicide hotline) one of the primary initial “need” a volitile person seeks is affirmation and understanding, i.e. empathy. If they recognize they CAN talk with you without perceived judgement, both of you are off to a good start. As you might suspect though, this protocol doesn’t work 100% of the time — you may truly be dealing with a psychotic episode and those are subject to the individual’s developed pathology, neurology, and family-social dynamics. :/

    Nevetheless, I’ve found in my personal and professional history this routine (that must be updated/refined sometime!) usually works well. Online, on social media like you touch on — the FB or Twitter comments wasteland? — doesn’t even come close to a necessary human touch. They’re too “detached” and tempt those to speak and behave in ways they usually wouldn’t do live in person. That detachment is similar to road rage, if that makes sense.

    I also thought about the struggling Art, or the dying Art of Conversation… quality inspiring civil face-to-face conversations. In a society of go-go-go and squeeze as much productivity out of 24-hours as humanly (and electronically!) possible… the Art of Refined Superb Conversation, deep subjects or charming topics that make us laugh or at least grin or smile big, are overshadowed by too many other stimuli. Stimuli other than human face-to-face contact and expression. Clearly hours upon hours in our vehicles, on cell phones, FB, Twitter, and any other FAST shallow social-media apps does not nurture human touches. Perhaps it is no surprise the Art of Conversation struggles so much in the U.S.

    As I read this post, I also thought about a well done documentary film about this polarizing-trend in American society and politics called Patriocracy. Are you familiar with it Swarn?

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  3. You know, I hear so many people constantly dogging FB, etc, and yet I’ve seen more positive in social media than I have negative. Am I just being naive? The very fact that people are posting stuff that is shocking to them shows their humanity and desire for a better world.

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  4. “An analysis of 3,800 randomly chosen Twitter users found that emotions spread virally through Twitter feeds – with positive emotions far more likely to spread than negative ones.

    “What you tweet and share on social media outlets matters. Often, you’re not just expressing yourself – you’re influencing others,” said Emilio Ferrara, lead author of the study and a computer scientist at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Information Sciences Institute. Ferrara collaborated with Zeyao Yang of Indiana University. Their study was published by the journal PLOS One on Nov. 6.

    The study builds on decades of research demonstrating first that emotions can be spread through person-to-person contacts, and now finding that they can spread through online interactions as well.

    https://pressroom.usc.edu/positive-emotions-are-more-contagious-than-negative-ones-on-twitter/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is good info in terms of showing how positive emotions spread, and it is does leave me with a glowy feeling to know that this is the case. However in my blog I was not trying to make the case that there are more negative than positive, only that when we tend to post about important issues that we might be more often being divisive with how we present the information. In the example I used in my blog, the algorithm used in this study would both find the titles of the two articles positive, but I am asserting, perhaps in correctly that the first title is more divisive than the second. So when I talk about being positive I mean, well okay Trump said some prejudicial things about Mexicans, so let’s take that outrage and just post something informative and positive that negates Trump’s comments, but without saying something like “Despite what that idiot Trump says…” and then link article A. It’s good to be outraged, but if we want to bridge the divide we can’t turn off the minds we want to reach by attacking someone they support or attacking their viewpoint angrily, and then post our informative article, because I believe they are less likely to take away anything positive. Perhaps I am wrong, but that was what I was trying to get at.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand, and you made great points. My comment was more or less directed at Dwain’s comment and others I’ve read lately. My life changed for the positive because of social media. My outlook on life changed, too. I think I may have given up hope for humanity had it not been for my online interactions which are not, in the least, superficial.

        But I do understand what you are saying, simply because of the nature of our brain, and the propensity for our defenses to engage first when feeling threatened or insulted. As you recall, I did a post on the power of words, and how just one negative word will light up the limbic system and can release stress hormones.

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  5. I think you just outlined the business plan for Fox News?

    The negative is too easy to inspire kneejerk reactions. Too easy to as you said, respond in kind. Negativity is right there bubbling underneath the surface, easy access.

    Positive usually requires a moment of thought, reflection, consideration, and too many haven’t the time or the capability.

    I can see what you are saying, and I agree the Fox News business plan is a terrible way to spread information. Information laden with purposeful negativity. In hopes to inspire a desired outcome. (Vote Republican!)

    This isn’t news anymore, it isn’t even information, it is propaganda.

    As far as other social media outlets, I haven’t the time or the inclination to go there. My negativity exploded 3 days after I opened a FB account. I left out of there like the place was a cesspool of idiocy. From my own family lol.

    Problem, as I see it… The media, social outlets, and people in general (and this definately includes me) could and should try to look for the positive things. They are there if you look. But the problem is, sometimes you just cannot sugarcoat a turd. There is so much negativity out there right now it is hard to get away from. The greatest source of positive I get from the world is right here at home with my family, and from a few choice blog buddies.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I always love the way you phrase things. You are right that it does take a little more thought to be positive. At the same time that is what many of us liberals proclaim to be about, so I am just try to encourage more of that and back it up with some good reasons of why it might be better.

      Now I’m not suggesting we post stories of kittens, I think absolutely ridiculous ideas that are put out there should be challenged, but I am simply also trying to suggest ways that we can be less divisive when we challenge those ideas. Now I’m quite sure that we could get a lot of good things done in this country without caring what the Trump supporters think of us, but if would be better if they were on board at least to a certain degree. If we think have any moral superiority as critical thinkers then we also should demonstrate that in how we challenge terrible ideas, and how we inform other people of better ideas. Because in the end it is not just Trump supporters that we would like to get on board either, it’s the Carson supporters, the Cruz supporters, the Rubio supporters, etc. Of courses it’s most likely that there may always be some disagreement about issues, but we need to be having a more meaningful conversation about it. For example, Trump says a lot of turds, but yet there is a large group of people who don’t find them to be turds at all. Now if I want to reach somebody who thinks that way and have a meaningful discussion, it becomes self-defeating if I call the person they support an idiot and then start explaining why? Because it translates to you’re an idiot and then somehow we expect that person to think we are a reasonable and kind person who should be listened to. It just doesn’t work that way. So take the turd, don’t sugarcoat it, but also don’t throw it at the person who disagrees with you. Simply present information that negates the turd and without specifically attacking the person who laid the turd or who support the turd layer. lol That’s what I was getting at.

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      1. ” Simply present information that negates the turd and without specifically attacking the person who laid the turd or who support the turd layer.”

        Swarn, do you think the strategy you suggest would have been effective during Hilter’s reign? Sorry for using Hitler’s profound influence over the Germans as an example. I’m just thinking out loud and wondering if such a strategy would have curtailed the propaganda induced hatred towards Jews.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Well I don’t know enough about that particular situation to know the level of divisiveness that existed before the German warm machine fired up. I think it might have been effective early on, and certainly once Hitler took power the government was far more intimidating in terms of the force it was willing to use on people who disagreed than our government is right now. But I more worry about a divide becoming so great that it does come to violence. The abortion issue is perhaps a good example of how the increased polarization is having dangerous impacts.

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          1. If and or when you have some spare time, I think you will find this article very eye-opening.

            Understanding the German People’s Participation in the Third Reich
            http://itech.fgcu.edu/&/issues/vol2/issue1/german.htm

            […in all the history of WWII there were only fourteen accounts of Germans who were punished for refusing to carry out orders to kill Jews: nine were executed, four were sent to concentration camps, one was transferred to a military penal unit. Therefore, claims of coercion by force are almost completely unsubstantiated.

            Hitler’s evil genius lay not in his ability to seduce and hypnotize, but it lay in his ability to guide Germany to fully express her long heritage of Jew-hating.

            And

            In conclusion, the fundamental motive underlying the perpetrators of the Holocaust was Germany’s ancient roots of anti-Semitism. It is true that many conditions worked together to aid the Nazi’s rise to power and their subsequent brutal regime. Germany was a nation with a damaged pride and a very unhealthy economy.

            The Nazis were virtuoso propagandists and opportunists and they seized the nation while it was at its most vulnerable. Yet if it were possible to take away any of these elements that made up the Holocaust, it still could have happened through overcompensation in another area. However, if Germany’s deep hatred of the Jews was removed from the equation, the Holocaust could never have happened.

            I just got through watching interviews by the Republican presidential candidates as well as Paul Ryan. Even though they claim that they do not support Trump now, they say they will if he ends up being the Republican presidential nominee. I think we can see by the way the vast majority of Republican citizens and all of the Republican House have reacted with the Syrian refugee settling here, that there appears to be a deep hatred for Muslims. Like Hitler, politicians are using this to their advantage.

            So, my point is, how do we get around this, because I don’t think that ignoring it is going to make it go away. That little church that the Friendly Atheist spoke about does represent a fairly large segment of religious society in America. Can you force someone to think? I realize that you have laid out a sensible strategy, but I’m wondering how many sensible people there are.

            USA Today reports that 68 percent of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump supporters say they would vote for him even if he leaves the Republican Party.

            I think you’ve addressed something that seems to reside in the heart of many Americans. The same thing that resided in the heart of the majority of Christian Germany in at least the first four decades of the 20th century.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. That’s interesting. Then where was the divide in the population other than the obvious one associated with the Jewish minority and the German anti-Semitic population? I guess this to me still seems a little different than what we have here at least presently, but things could certainly get worse.

              I do agree with you, it seems like an impossible task when you look at the math of it all. But part of my point in complaining about the Friendly Atheist post, is to not say that there are more like that racist pastor, but when we then magnify his words and put him on the national stage through a popular blog, news article etc, all of a sudden what we are doing is showing people that if you want to become popular, be extreme (even if you are popular for the wrong reason) and we send the message that anybody who agrees with this person is in fact an idiot causing those people to become more entrenched in their beliefs in this person as being right. So the question maybe really is how do we challenge harmful ideas without attack the people who, for whatever reason, support them?

              Now there are likely people that are so entrenched in their beliefs that there is no convincing them otherwise, at least through any words, information or articles that we have to give them. Unless they have a deeply impactful personal experience they probably aren’t going to change. Moreover they are less likely to change because of what I say, no matter how kindly and respectfully I may say. Knowledge that I’m an atheist or a liberal may already have their fists up ready for a fight. But the person who maybe has a better chance is somebody who is somewhere in the middle maybe to the right of middle. Through the process of divisiveness though we erode the middle and create a bimodal distribution over a normal distribution. So our intellectual passive resistance may not impact those at the extreme end very much but it may strengthen the middle and increase the continuity in our spectrum.

              I’m not sure any of what I’m saying is right but this is how it plays out in my mind anyway.

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            2. I simply don’t know the answer. In fact, I’ve been doing a lot of contemplating the last two months (which is why I haven’t been blogging), and I simply feel confused as to what is the best approach in bringing awareness of the enormous harm causes by certain ideologies, without demeaning individuals who promote them. 😦

              I’m not in a good place, and your post exacerbated my confusion and heightened discouragement. It’s not you. It’s me, so please don’t take my comment personally. I want to do the right thing, but I feel at a loss as to how to go about it without making things worse.

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            3. *hugs* I understand. The funny thing is I find you to be better at communicating with those who disagree with you than I am. 🙂 Perhaps in the end all we can do is just keep trying to fight for the things that we think are important and try to love as many people while doing that. And also make sure to take time to enjoy ourselves by reading a good story, enjoying a good meal, and having enjoyable conversations. 🙂

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      2. I hear what you are saying Swarn, and I am forced to agree with you. Catch more flies with honey and all of that…come to think of it turds also attract flies! But seriously I understand your meaning here, and it is a better way to approach many problems.

        You are right, when you call Trump an idiot, that translates to Trump supporters that they are idiots. ( I guess it doesn’t matter that it’s actually true here) Honestly in my daily travels I do strive to achieve what you are conveying. I do my best to explain things in ways that make people think for themselves, and not just rely on my personal thoughts. It is also how I’ve raised my kids all of these years. I don’t just answer questions, I give them the tools to figure it out on their own.

        But, sometimes you just gotta call a turd a turd. 🙂

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        1. We all need that venting therapy for sure. 🙂 I guess the way that I look at it is just like nobody is born a criminal or murderer, a Christian or a Muslim, it is the environment that creates those beliefs and those values, and the environment that continues to reinforce or change those beliefs and values. So even a Trump supporter is in fact wholly wrong in their belief that this leader will be beneficial to them and their fellow citizen they weren’t born that clueless and so how to we clue them in as opposed to alienating them and reinforcing those incorrect notions? And just like we can extract some relevant points from the narrative of the bible, perhaps there are some valid concerns of the Trump supporter that makes them worth listening to even if the person they support is for the wrong reasons. Unless we find a way to have meaningful conversations with people we disagree with I believe this country will continue to become more divided. I don’t know I am just trying to stitch things together and my ideas may be bollocks, but I continue try. 🙂 Maybe it’s just the nature of things that things have to get worse before they can get better. Worse really sucks though!

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          1. “how to we clue them in as opposed to alienating them and reinforcing those incorrect notions?”

            A thousand ways. There are those who are blunt and to the point. There are those who are sly and thoughtful. There are those who are dare I say apologetic to the cause. There are many different people making good points in their respective ways. The question, I believe, is who is listening?

            Those that are listening, seeking, trying to piece it together, those are the people we reach. If they are seeking, the internet is a broad palate of ideas and reason. I think some people need to hear the blunt side. Some people need to hear it in the roundabout apologetic fashion, and some need to be led with intriguing questions that allow them to think for themselves. My belief is it all works.

            Yes, you are very much correct in your notion of trying to approach the issue with less negativity. I believe that is better ground for plowing for the most part. Bringing someone around is much easier if you don’t just piss them off out of the gate. Once that happens they tend to clam up and put you on the “pissed list.” But sometimes the shock of outright refusal to coddle, the mocking of bad ideas or reasoning, can cause someone to do some snooping around. Snooping is good. When one looks to buttress their bad ideas, and finds a great deal of sound reason and logic that shoots them down, that causes them to wonder if maybe they might need to rethink a situation.

            So, like I was saying it all works on different people at different levels. The best we, you and I, and our blog pals can do, is to keep on doing what we are doing. It will work for somebody. I am in great agreement with your premise here, selling our ideas will probably work better for more people if we can avoid too much negativity in doing so.

            ” Unless we find a way to have meaningful conversations with people we disagree with I believe this country will continue to become more divided.”

            Yes, but the trick is finding someone interested in a meaningful conversation. My fear is that trait has been bred out of popularity. (oops, I let some negativity in)

            ” I don’t know I am just trying to stitch things together and my ideas may be bollocks, but I continue try. :)”

            I admire you for your public service 🙂

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            1. I agree with you shell, different types of communication have different impacts on people. But like you said, pissing people off first never goes very far. I think there are ways of communicating in those different styles without pissing people off. Also to communicate the right way with any particular individual comes from knowing that individual. This is the hardest part of the internet because in general we don’t really know the people we are debating with. This is why before I said social media might not be the best forum for having meaningful discussions, at the same time we all seem fairly intent on using it so I want to see if we can use this powerful tool that a lot of people use around the world to have more meaning and impact.

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            2. Well, no matter how you dice it, that is a good cause.

              It is very difficult to know who is at the other end of the keyboard. But just as in real life with a little time the real who/what a person is becomes visible with time.

              Life is like a box of onions, you have to peel back the layers to see whats in there. Also generally speaking a face to face meeting/discussion makes people put up the “try not to piss anyone off mechanisms” at least for a little while. The internet? Ha!

              Which I suppose proves your point 🙂

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