In the last few years, I’ve watched people I know take on new personas online and spout off with positions on topics on social media and speak in tones and absolutes that would trouble me if I heard them talk that same way in person. I’ve seen how calloused and stubborn we have become in positions on everything from politics to medicine to foreign policy to religion and everything else in between. And in most of these areas, the people I’m referring to are not professionals in those spaces but speak with the authority and audacity (pride?) of someone who is. It is baffling. Why do we feel so compelled to sound right all of the time (and everyone else wrong)?
The hardest part is discerning actual viewpoints when we “speak” only in memes or screenshotted tweets of someone else’s words, especially when they are shared without context. I’ve written before about nuance and its missing presence in current dialogue and I am daily reminded of the importance of nuance in our daily discourse. I’ve pondered why we continue to have a tougher time having conversations and living in the gray areas. Why muster be so sure about everything? Why can’t we be ok not knowing it all? Is it because it’s difficult to live in that space or because it’s easier to yell from a distance with other so-called allies and supporters on a given topic? Do we really not have time to provide Why do we have such a difficult time living in the in-between?
It’s OK not to have hot takes about everything, or have an oversimplified tweet or meme to “explain” your position or get a point across. The internet and its most popular platforms have provided the space and time to write, along with the ability to formulate our own thoughts – and nuanced ones at that! It’s ok to take a step back and not be the first, second, or third person to speak up on areas you are not an expert in. Take me for example, a non-expert in foreign policy, medicine/public health, urban planning, public transit, and tons of other subject matters.
What I can do, though, is patiently listen and read. To ask hard and honest questions of others whose goals are to better understand something, not to shame or one-up or “own” someone in a discussion. Of equal importance is asking hard questions of myself! I should regularly question my own motives and intent with every word I utter and every thought that fills my mind.
It is also clear to me that too many people are unable or unwilling to do this and would prefer to come across as “right” or first with the witty retort or “scathing” insight to a situation rather than have a conversation where the real details and issues reside. Maybe they find it easier to repeat what was read somewhere and mimic that tone and that message instead of digesting and processing information and ideas to share something in their own voice. When I see how some friends present themselves online, I begin to wonder where along the journey they lost their own identity in someone else’s or in some projected version of themselves.
So let’s slow down a little bit. Don’t get so caught up in the immediacy of our culture and make space for your own thoughts to be formed and to be shared with your world. I’d rather hear your unique perspectives than another oversimplified meme/quote from a stranger on the internet.