This week I stepped into the middle of a dispute between friends on Facebook. I don’t like to harp on a similar topic two weeks in a row, but such are the times. I’ll tell you what I saw.
It started with a democrat friend, outraged by recent events, making a blanket statement about republicans. A republican friend of both of us objected to the statement. What followed was a back-and-forth (not too heated, but clearly emotional on both sides) where each stated their opinions on the ideals of those with the opposing viewpoint.
Normally I don’t say much on Facebook (or elsewhere – I really am a very quiet person), but this time I had to step in. Here was a pair of people, friends, arguing, all the while saying absolutely nothing – communicating no actual information.
I pointed out to them that this was the exact problem in politics. It isn’t that the opposing side is unwilling to listen (although that plays a part), it’s that when people have differing viewpoints no one bothers to look at or explain why they hold that specific opinion.
The sad truth of the matter is that most people can’t truly understand something outside their own experience. The most generous people in the world are the poor – people who know what it is to have little, so they share as much as they can with those who need help. People who have never had close experiences with people with mental illnesses (or had one themselves) don’t understand why mental illness is such a problem – and often think people with mental illnesses are just weak or lazy. People who haven’t experienced something don’t have the same frame of reference as those who have – and, as such, they form different opinions.
But no one bothers to explain; all people do is shout their already formed opinions at each other. Then they dislike each other and go their separate ways, choosing to only spend time with those who agree with them. Then there become two large groups, isolated from each others’ frames of reference. Their own ideals are amplified by sharing them with people who agree, and the two groups grow further apart as their disputes grow bigger. The world gets divided into “us” and “them”.
On the other hand, if both sides are willing to listen – to question, to explain – then there is truly some hope. Opinions are formed based on our experiences (or just taken from a source we trust), making an opinion on its own meaningless. When two people take the time to figure out why they have opposing opinions, they have a chance of finding common ground or swaying each others’ views. Or they might find they still disagree, but at least they’ll understand why they disagree. That might not seem important, but it is – it’s the difference between thing someone is a stupid, mindless sheep, and understanding that they reasoned out their opinion – even if they did end up with different results.
When it comes down to it, there are very few people in the world that genuinely want to cause harm. Everyone wants what they think is best. Often they value the same things – they just see things from a perspective so different that it’s hard to relate. But if the two sides come together to share how they reached their views, they might very well find some middle ground – and that middle ground will be all the more solid because of the work it took to find it.
The dispute between my two friends? Diffused, with both agreeing with the points I made. I suspect they would have gotten there without me anyway, but I like to think I helped to get them (and others viewing the thread) thinking about resolutions. That’s what we need more than anything right now – mended fences and common ground, because the United States are falling apart and there’s only so much the rest of the world can do to pick up the pieces.
Click here to find the charity anthology containing a couple of my short stories.