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Times They Are a-Changin'

posted Nov 11, 2016, 6:59 AM by Kanika G   [ updated Nov 11, 2016, 7:07 AM ]

I am fed up with reading the endless, strongly worded, posts written either in support of, or against, Brexit, US elections results and currency swaps, dividing people and pitting them against each other.

In depressing times, when people are all attacking each other, it is nice to focus on the little things like spending time with family, where we can work together to live up to the values we cherish, and where we often make an effort to accommodate each other, in spite of, sometimes, strong differences in opinion.

In case of family, we do this because we know the people intimately. We know the complexity of the characters, their strengths and weaknesses, and the experiences and doubts that have led to, both, the good and bad decisions they have made. We think of them as people, and not billboards for a particular slogan.

But that is not so for people we come across on social media. Often we know little about them other than the sound bites they share. And we make quick decisions of hating or liking them, the people, I mean, and not just the sound bites. This creates divisiveness and bitterness. Both sides (fairly reasonable people to start with) get goaded into a bickering match where they try to out-snide each other, and with each new turn, their views become more and more extreme just out of pride and a need to win the fight.

Sometimes we are baffled that people we are fond of, post something we strongly disagree with and in the absence of personal contact, that one event makes us hate them. We feel bitter and betrayed and strike back in kind. Soon it is no longer about the issue, but about a personal betrayal. And what makes us feel more hurt than a personal betrayal?

Yes social media has helped us reconnect with old friends and make new ones in far away places. We are no longer restricted by geographical boundaries. But we must be careful about what we post on social media.

Any one of us, has a variety of friends and acquaintances, and each of them share only a subset of our ideals and values. And that is perfectly fine. We are often happy to agree to disagree on some subjects, because we value the people for many reasons that go far beyond their opinion on a particular subject. But we know what the sore subjects are, and are courteous enough to avoid bringing them up in person.

However, when we post on social media, there is a distance created, and we do not show the same sensitivity. Social media is also not designed for well thought out balanced articles, but for prickly, reaction provoking zingers. We may post such things, thinking ourselves to be clever, but we often forget that with each such post, we are deepening the divide with friends who disagree with us, possibly, only on one of many issues, or pushing people with reasonably different opinion in to a defensive manoeuvre of thinking more fanatically and then inevitably drifting further that way.

Yes social media is a great way to spread awareness. But goading people is not spreading awareness. People's opinions are not changed by snide, sarcastic remarks, that belittle their thinking. However thoughtful polite posts, that try to empathize with different ways of thinking, can foster meaningful discussion.

Social media is new and we are all trying to figure out how to use it. Whenever we see something we disagree with (me included) there is a strong tendency to fight back and win by being more caustic and snide. But this approach escalates matters. Instead, an effort to de-escalate through a respectful reply making an honest attempt to engage in meaningful discussion, often ends in each person learning something and feeling good.

It is this good feeling, that is much needed today. Yes times are changing, and we are witnessing certain trends. But every new era is a strong reaction to the previous one, and history is hopefully like a damped harmonic oscillator, and not just a cycle where we do not learn anything from the past.

But, whatever the case, it is important to treat people as complex, thinking, individuals shaped by their circumstances and experiences, and not merely as mouthpieces of sound bites. It is also important to remember, that almost everything and everyone has many hues, and it is important to force yourself to understand the fears, doubts, logic and thought process of the other side, instead of writing them off as either evil or fools.

Yes it is important to speak up against what we consider to be oppression or injustice, but it is important to do it in a way that does not increase hate. In some ways social media is a good tool, because we don't have to respond immediately, since we are not face to face with anyone. We can take a step back, breathe and think of the best way to de-escalate matters and efficiently and politely convey we want without a mudslinging match. We need to make an effort to genuinely understand what is being said and responding to it, rather than deliberately misinterpreting an argument we disagree with, just to make it sound foolish. But for this, we need to cultivate a patient and thoughtful attitude in reacting to social media.

Probably unnecessary to mention, the title of this article is taken from a Bob-Dylan song