NARKISSOS (or Narcissus) was a young man, a son of the river-god Kephisos and the fountain-nymph Liriope. He was celebrated for his beauty and attracted many admirers but, in his arrogance, spurned them all. One rejected admirer became distraught, and called on the goddess Nemesis to avenge him. His prayer was answered when Narkissos fell in love with his reflection in a pool, gazing endlessly at himself and slowly pining away until he was transformed by the nymphs into a narcissus flower — a symbol of beauty, but also of warning.
We increasingly live in a “selfie” culture. Our Instagram feeds are pictures of ourselves, the food we’re eating, the fabulous life we’re living, and the fabulous friends we have (often with us at the center of the circle). We collect followers on Facebook, we think of ourselves as a “brand,” and advertisers want to leverage our Twitter feeds. Our status updates become an opportunity to declare our opinions to hundreds — if not thousands — of people, most of whom will likely agree with us, puff us up, and make us feel validated.
Technology is an amazing thing. But as with everything, there’s a dark side as well. Is it possible, in all of this shouting and putting our image out there, that we are actually missing a core component of what makes us human?
Maybe you’ve heard the old phrase, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.” This is a reminder that we are created to listen as well as speak. But in a self-obsessed culture, could it be that we’re so focused on what we want to say that we have lost the ability to listen — and particularly to listen to those with whom we might disagree?
“The biggest communication problem is: we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.”
This is true not just in terms of social media. News broadcasters have also found ratings by compartmentalizing their audience according to worldviews. Whether it’s Fox News or MSNBC, it’s become increasingly difficult for audiences to seek out a broad understanding of the truth. Most would prefer to simply watch the network or news anchor who can reinforce their pre-established worldviews or prejudices. Thus, whether you are conservative or liberal, you are right and everyone else is wrong … according to a preselected information base that excludes anyone with whom you disagree.
In reflecting on the unhealthy ways in which our culture increasingly communicates, there are three questions we should ponder:
1. Are we willing to be challenged by other perspectives?
Take a look at your daily newsfeed. Have you configured your Facebook page or grouped your headlines where you only receive information from one news source or from a small circle of like-minded friends? If so, perhaps you should consider exploring another perspective. Challenge yourself by exploring sources of information that may be radically different from yours, and resist the urge to throw up your hands in angry cynicism at the opinion-makers who you may too easily write off. Is there some truth that can broaden your understanding?
2. Are we able to respect others in the midst of such debates?
Consider how you post your status updates. Do you type things like “I can’t understand how anyone would think (fill in the blank)?” It’s worth remembering that people do think that way. Aren’t these people worthy of your time and attention, or at least basic respect? In America, our politics are deeply divided, but they are divided because our brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends, think differently than we do. What if we remembered that these debates are, at their core, differences between people, and chose to respect them as such?
3. Can we accept living in a “grey” world, when there are as many statistics to support or negate your viewpoint?
Whatever your political convictions, you no doubt have a thousand websites and statistics to support your position. At the end of the day, these statistics, taken together, paint a world that is far more complex than we would like it to be. When it comes to forming an opinion in the face of all this data, most people wind up going with their gut. As a result, these convictions, however well-informed, are ultimately personal. So while we may feel like we are debating data, we are really debating personal differences, and while we may feel like we’re destroying a viewpoint, we may be destroying a person. People are destroyed far more easily than opinions—and the costs are much greater.
The world is increasingly complex, and not as black and white as we would like to think. We need to grasp emotional maturity in the aspects of differing with others, and find a common ground to stand on. We are human beings, each of us unique and different, with diverse ways of seeing the world. That is actually crucial to increasing our understanding. The mind is beautiful. Let’s treat it as such.
How do you engage with differing opinions?
Image via Rebecca Batista