Remember when we were kids and our parents would mutter about friends who had the nerve to talk politics at a party? That was the height of boorishness back then. Anyone with five cents worth of manners knew that you didn’t talk politics—or religion—at a social gathering. Whatever happened to that level of social awareness?
Now we are bombarded with opinions from friends, co-workers, family members, total strangers outside the supermarket—even phone-dialing robots. It’s no wonder so many are so weary of the political environment. It’s everywhere. It’s unceasing. And it has little to do with what you personally choose to believe.
We have devolved on this psychologically. The “be nice” of the “50’s and 60’s” may have been for the wrong reasons—not rocking the boat, fitting in, whatever–but it was on target in terms of an intelligent way to deal with the diversity of opinion that exists simply because we are…well…a diverse population.
It is the mark of a socially un-evolved person to assume that everyone thinks just like you. Yet that is exactly what’s going on now. If a person is your friend—or a member of your family—then of course they are going to agree with what you think about “the other side.” It’s “us” and “them.” We’ve lost our respect for the many nuances that make up individual opinions.
This attitude is just plain stunted. How do you refine an opinion if you never go beyond hearing what people who agree with your current opinion have to say? How do you become more educated about issues if you just buy in on a bunch of “other bashing” and call it good?
It doesn’t make any difference whether you are a citizen of the United States or a small, new, developing country. Deciding another faction is wrong and that you need to fight diverts the energy of both groups from the common good. Why are we doing it this way?
Media needs Let’s face it. A lot of what we decide to get worked up about is a function of so many media outlets needing something to talk about. Novelists and screenwriters are taught to create “conflict on every page” because conflict makes for a more compelling story. News channels and talk shows can’t (or at least should not) just make stuff up to be entertaining. Instead, they fan tiny embers of disagreement into walls of flame for the sake of ratings (which drive advertising rates which in turn drive profits).
Easy mass message options Before the Internet, if you wanted to rant, you needed to either walk to a busy street corner and try to get people to listen or write something and try to get it published—which often took years if it ever happened at all. Now, every little thing that irritates you can be communicated to thousands in less than a minute. When it took more effort, we were more selective about our “causes.” Now, the wrong flowers planted in a roundabout are cause for an Internet campaign. When so much energy is spent ranting about what’s wrong, there’s not much left to get things to go right. So instead of solutions, we just keep generating “problems.” That’s a lot easier to do, but socially we’re creating a helluva mess.
Weakened interpersonal skills Talking with your thumbs removes a lot of the cues for good communication–no body language to read, no intonation to assess, no facial expressions to interpret. Just words on a screen. The ability to sense what a person really means is significantly diminished as a result. So instead of dialogues—where you exchange ideas–we have “duologues”–where two people take turns talking but neither takes in information from the other. Rather than sharpening both sets of opinions by carving away the fluff and nonsense, each person wraps his/her opinion in more and more layers of insulation.
So what’s a smart person to do?
Well, let’s start by not being willing to participate in these non-conversations. We can hang up on robocalls, delete politically incendiary e-mail forwards without reading them, and give ourselves balanced news coverage in the variety of sources we use. We need a total change of mindset: a calm, simple “No thank you” to every version of political diatribe. Word fighting doesn’t serve any of us and a steady diet of it really is bad for your health. (It’s a horrendous source of stress.)
Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. She has also recently released an e-book on Kindle titled 39 Bites of Wisdom: Little Lessons on Getting Life Right. For more, see her website www.mining-silver.com.