Divisiveness. It’s an all too common theme playing out online and over the airways these days.
Amid the pandemic, protests and a presidential election year, it’s becoming apparent that the spirit of division and diatribe has bored deep into our society. Scroll through your social media page, and you’ll likely see countless so-and-sos ranting about controversial issues. Flip on the cable news, and you’ll get an earful of elected officials ripping into each other.
Every time I see the name-calling and finger-pointing, an age-old question pops in my head: Can’t we all just get along? Or agree to disagree, at the very least?
I get it. You’ve probably read dozens of columns in which the writer has implored you to choose “kindness” and “civil discourse” over “anger” and “polarization.” Perhaps you’ve interpreted those messages as sappy or unrealistic.
Well, I don’t expect everyone to join hands and sing “We Are the World.” I’m not advocating that we agree with or celebrate every viewpoint that we don’t like. I’m just saying that we should respect others and avoid name-calling and general rudeness when giving an opinion.
Many scholarly articles have been written on the topic of civil discourse, but I’ll just give a simple, boiled-down version of what it means to me. To engage with someone in a civil conversation, you must listen to their story or viewpoint, then be willing to share your background. That way, you can build a discussion from a standpoint of mutual interest, in attempt to understand the other individual and why they believe a certain way.
If more of us followed this template, I think we would have more productive
and friendlier interactions with others in-person and online. In fact, we might be able to take the edge off some controversies and avoid full-blown arguments.
That being said, the explosion of social media has made the practice of civil discourse much more difficult. Mainly, because social media enables some users to become self-proclaimed experts in a span of a few sentences and berate anyone who even remotely disagrees with them. Social media can be a great way to promote civil discourse and helpful information, or to rally the community together around a noble cause or project. Yet, we commonly witness explosive rants and displays of insensitive or rude humor on these sites as well.
It’s easy to be cynical about civil discourse, especially when we don’t always see shining examples given by our leaders and our friends/neighbors/ family members. And yes, our opinions will rub some people the wrong way, no matter how respectful and professional we are. Through it all, I think we should always think before we speak (or post) and weigh the power our words carry.
Some might say, “What’s the big deal? Who cares if I offend someone on Facebook?” My response is this: If we project ourselves in an inflammatory way online, who’s to say that won’t translate to the workplace, the Thanksgiving Day table or the family barbeque?
I have a bad feeling that many families and friendships will be torn apart in the divisive aftermath of 2020. Let’s do our part to ensure that we aren’t contributing to the problem. Indeed, let’s try to “get along” with each other the best we can.
Ben Gagnon is a reporter for View Newspaper Group. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.