I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m always being presented with that question. Are you Republican or Democrat? On which side of the abortion debate do you fall? Should the government have the power to make us where masks? Do you support police officers or Black Lives Matter?
Nobody wants to know my thoughts, they simply want to know which side of the arguments I fall on so they can decide whether or not we’ll continue in relationship together. Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit. Hop on any social media platform and you’ll see messages like ‘If you don’t believe in <Insert Polarizing Topic Here> you can unfriend me now!’
I won’t get into my thoughts on social media here (though it’s something I could write about for days), but I do want to express my growing frustration with the very polarizing nature that we all face on a day to day basis.
The line is clear, and you must choose
Everything is black and white. Nuance seems to have largely disappeared, and those that know me know that my favorite color just might actually be grey.
You are either for something or against something. There is no middle ground, and to claim that you fall somewhere in the middle will often leave you shunned by both sides of an argument. Empathy isn’t a virtue – but a sickness that poisons the mind. I’m speaking in hyperbole, obviously, but these are the thoughts I have when I look a Facebook or Twitter, YouTube and sometimes even Twitch. I know these thoughts aren’t representative of everyone in the world, and irony of my brain beginning to attribute such hard and fast polarizations to everyone isn’t lost on me.
What am I getting at? I’m not sure, but I guess I’m tired of there not being any nuance. I’m tired of everyone choosing sides and not hearing each other. People say it’s the media’s fault, and I get that argument, but I don’t watch the news and see those very same people that are themselves posting such polarizing statements crying out that the media is ruining this country.
I don’t believe the media is the problem. I believe we are. I believe I am. I toe the line even now as I write this. I separate people into two categories – those that choose a side and those that don’t. It’s nearly impossiblet to get away from it, and quite frankly is a normal human process to try and sort information in a way that leaves us with as little cognitive dissonance as possible.
Where the line begins to blur
How do we deal with this? How do I even begin to engage in these kinds of conversations? I don’t really know the answer to that question, but I have some thoughts, and some might view them as naive. I’m going to stop looking at the topics themselves, and instead begin looking at the people.
We each cling to ideals, and we believe those ideals define us. We have reason for what we believe, even if we don’t always understand those reasons. At the end of the day, I don’t care what side of the ‘line’ you fall on in regards to BLM or police support. I don’t care whether you a pro-life or pro-choice. I do care about you, however. I want to understand why you believe what you do. Not to judge it, and not to put you in a box and decide whether or not we can still be friends. I want to understand who you are, and why you believe what you believe because your thoughts and beliefs are valid and important, even if they don’t perfectly align with my own.
When the line begins to blur, when we look past the issues what we begin to see are the people involved. The lovely, broken, beautiful, hurting human beings with complex ideals and emotions colored by difficult pasts and lives that have helped shape them. Each of us has a story, and that story is worth hearing. We are, each of us, more than which side of some imaginary line we fall.
When we lose sight of the individual, we begin to spiral, we begin to hate. I need a smidge less hate in my life right about now, and I’d bet you do, too.
How about we quit asking each other ‘What side of the line are you on?’ and starting asking each other ‘Why do you believe what you believe?’ and then listen. You might be surprised to learn that that person’s ideals aren’t quite so different than yours.