Tuesday, October 3, 2017

La, La, La...I Can't Hear You

Recently my sister in law and I were having a conversation about the hot button topics of immunizations and school choices.

Horror of horrors!

Even though we have taken different paths, we were still able to have an amicable conversation.

Which seems rather rare in this day and age. We remarked that conversations like these used to happen between individuals. It wasn't all perfectly harmonious but...

Now most of these types of conversations happen online. From immunizations to school choices, essential oils to toxins, politics to religion. So many divisive topics. Lots of opinions are expressed. Very vehemently. Positions are dug, mountains are fortified. Very little listening happens. Too many conversations are charged with emotion and accusation, and very little chill.

By definition, a conversation is an informal exchange of ideas by spoken word. But, we've taken these conversations online, and we've changed the essential dynamics of conversation. Words are no longer spoken, they are typed. We look at screens and don't engage with a person's voice and inflections and nuances. There is spewing of opinions with no exchange of ideas.

We click like or angry or sad or happy, we answer, often without even reading the article shared. We think we already know what they are saying, we already know what we believe.

He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him. (Proverbs 18:13)

We express our stances as if they are the only possible, logical, moral stance. And then we plug our ears. Conversation over.

Online lately, I often feel battered by the spoken or unspoken assumptions that are made concerning all sorts of differences. Gigantic leaps are made that bear little correlation to facts but assume the worst about those we disagree with.

It is unproductive, offensive and hurtful.

When we allow our conversations to disintegrate to this, we are working from some faulty assumptions. These assumptions may not be verbally expressed, but they are certainly upholding and reinforcing our position.

1. I am better than you because I do or don't do x, y or z. This is an assumption of moral superiority. This either shuts down any conversation or becomes a pissing contest. Well, actually I'm better because...It's accusatory and arrogant.

2. I know what's better for you. This assumption drives me insane. I have a hard enough time sifting through all the facets and factors of what's best for me and mine. How in the world do I possibly think I have all the information someone else has regarding their own person and circumstances? It's an idiotic assumption, but one that people make over and over. It's accusatory and arrogant.

3. You owe me an explanation-for your choice, and for the choices of every other person who made the same choice as you. Over the past year I've heard explanations demanded for everything from voting for President Trump to racism to gun control to schools to immunizations. America did not used to work this way. We believed in freedom of thought. We are answerable to certain authorities (including God) for our own choices and actions, not for someone else's. It is accusatory and arrogant.

4. My position is right because this person thinks so. We make a faulty appeal to authority or an appeal to the crowd. A really powerful video (article, book, etc.) that confirms what we already know: the vast majority of Americans are in favor of immunizations (impeaching the president, gun control, etc., etc.)". It is accusatory and arrogant.

So, instead of amicable conversation among sane adults, we have virtual shouting matches among adults who are acting childish.

It rather reminds me of a kid with his fingers in his ears, singing "la, la, la...I can't hear you."

It's not just that we can't hear, but we are unwilling to hear.

In school, Ethan and I are working through The Fallacy Detective. This book takes up various forms of bad reasoning. Interestingly enough, the first chapter is about exercising your mind and being willing to learn. The second chapter is about loving to listen.

Most fallacies (illogical connecting of the dots) are the result of not being willing to learn or not being willing to listen.

And that actually then boils down to a matter of the heart. Though we might like to think so, none of us are right 100% of the time (actually I'm right about 99% of the time. Just kidding.). Which means, we need to be willing to listen, so that we will learn and grow. Instead of drawing battle lines and further entrenching ourselves into our positions, we need to be willing to honestly ask ourselves...

What if I'm wrong about this? Or what if I need to grow in this? What if I need to learn another perspective-at the least for understanding my fellow humans, created in God's image, if not for promulgating?

Listening and learning are the remedy for accusations and arrogance.

How can we cultivate better conversations online and in person?

It starts with a willingness to listen and learn.