Blah! Blah! Blah! It seems to go on incessantly. We hear the polarizing commentary from pundits on TV and our internet social streams repeated by friends and coworkers. The arguments begin soon after and the posts, filled with vitriol and hate from many sides, fill our social media streams as the non-conversation breaks down into the grownup equivalent of “I know you are but what am I” and “You’re a meanie head.”
It seems everyone is great at gathering “like-minded” people and repeating the same chatter back to themselves, reinforcing their own beliefs whether rooted in fact or fiction. We have become a nation, a world of people who only want to talk and agree with people who talk about and agree with our own views. I know that sounds circular, but it is, in fact, the result of the echo chambers we find ourselves inhabiting in today’s social world. This incessant echo is beginning to rip apart the very foundation of our society and reduce us to class vs. class, gender vs. gender, red vs. blue, belief vs. belief vs. belief. It seems that issues that divide outnumber those that unite, and the desire to separate ourselves into smaller and smaller groups of “Us” and “Them” propagates everything from politics and religion to sports teams and whether a good book has been ruined because the author was a bigoted jerk. This separation in our social framework is rooted in the echo chamber, the gathering of like-minded people who repeat their ideals to one another and vilify those with opposing views to the point where there is a gulf that cannot be crossed lest we infect ourselves with the “sickness” that infects the other side.
The pre-Internet world had the same problem, but seemingly not at the epidemic levels we see today.(Yes, this curmudgeon is old enough to remember days before easily accessed message boards or social sites where people can spout inanities at their leisure. ) Before the days where you could share your ideals in 140 characters or less, it was harder to build echo chambers but they could still exist. Remember, there were always people who claimed the moon landings were faked, or that Kennedy was killed by LBJ and the Mafia with help from ET. Even without the internet, people would gather and share these ideas and would reinforce these beliefs with others who believed similar theories and help them “Keep the Faith” in the face of ridicule and opposition. No, echo chambers have always been with us, but what is happening today could only have escalated to its current chronic condition with the very invention that has grown our knowledge and connection; the access to instantaneous communication with people from almost anywhere, at any time, and on any topic our heart desires.
Here is an absurd example. If you believe that vanilla ice cream is the only real ice cream, and that all other ice cream is an abomination to the lactosian rulers of the multiverse, and, given enough tweets, Facebook posts, and other social media outlet messages espousing your “pure” ice cream dogma, you will find and/or convert enough to your cause to reinforce your own beliefs and in turn reinforce your new-found friend’s beliefs. You will help each other formulate arguments against those heathens who believe chocolate is the best flavor of ice cream, and how to argue against those who claim that vanilla is only a flavor and that real ice cream has no attachment to the flavor itself and that everyone should be able to choose their own particular flavor regardless of the base.Lines will be drawn, posts made, forums taken over by proponents of each view and in these, each side will continue to enforce their own beliefs, building straw man arguments and making fun of those who are clueless to the true flavor of ice cream.
This would be silly enough on its own but it doesn’t stop there. Someone in the vanilla only camp will vilify those who use sprinkles, as we all know, pure ice cream must stay pure, no additives , preservatives, or sprinkles. This will cause a schism in the vanilla camp that is a mirror of a similar breakup in the chocolate camp and the “any flavor” anarchists that are out there. This splintering effect will continue to further divide the group until there are multiple variations and even a few “enlightened” ice cream eaters who’ve opened there arms to any flavors, toppings, and even <GASP> mix-ins to your heart content. Each group continues to grow and spread their ideals, while at the same time, increasing their list of enemies to include those who oppose them. even if they forget why they made a distinction between white and rainbow-colored sprinkles.
Before we go any further, I know some of you are thinking that my example is too silly and absurd. In answer to that, replace ice cream with any topic that separates us today, from religion, to gender equality, to race, and almost anything else and you might find yourself a bit surprised. BIG NOTE HERE- I am NOT comparing any of these topics to ice cream and I know beyond any doubt that my example is an extreme oversimplification of the issues, BUT, stop and think about the fact that we’ve had people arguing over bathrooms and splitting hairs over what people are born with and what they now have and I don’t think I’m too far off base.
So, this is generally the part where the author details an awesome plan for a solution and call to action, and while I wish I could solve these issues in a single post, I am not crazy enough to think that I have the one and only answer to the problem and can dictate a solution to anyone. I only know that we all have to take steps to bridge the divide and stop yelling AT one another and start listening to those whom we have learned to call “them”. We must expose ourselves to ideals that frighten and even upset us, if for no other reason than to understand why there is a difference in the first place. We must focus on the common ground wherever we can and remember that the person on the other side of the tweet, Facebook post, or message board rant is another human with frailties, fears, loves, hates, and failings.
In the end, I can only truly control my own actions and voice, and that only with a great effort. That’s why I pledge to listen, think, and reply with dignity and respect when I disagree. I pledge to respect another’s point of view, even if I cannot see or even understand it, and I pledge to disagree without dehumanizing those with opposing views, even if they attempt to dehumanize me. I will listen before blindly speaking and refuse to fall into the trap of Us and Them.
Oh, and one more thing, I’ll even respect you people who eat pistachio ice cream with rainbow sprinkles, even though everyone knows you’re insane.