Resisting Polarization

Be extreme! While extremity is good advice in some circumstances and in right ways, extremity is catastrophic if constant and universal. When it comes to our beliefs, our paradigm, our worldview, always being extreme is divisive and dangerous. Sadly this is happening on a growing basis in our world, and especially in the United States. It used to be that people could sit down with differing opinions about something, have a discussion/debate, then walk away shaking hands and feeling good about the relationship with someone of another persuasion. Now people disagree and make it personal, vindictive and can’t stand to be in the same room with each other. Why has this de-evolution happened?

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I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming social media for all the problems in the world, but social media has a lot to do with the decreasing civility in our civilization. You have to admit, we now have the first young adults who grew up with social media having been part of their lives since an early age. They are an experiment, and they are not the only ones affected. Even us middle aged folks can be on social media on a regular basis for even a few weeks and it begin to change our way of life, our thought life, and our social life. In particular there is one area of social media that people are calling “the filter bubble.” This refers to a practice that all the web giants use to study each user to find their interests, political views, causes, etc and then use those findings to target them with similar content. We like to read and watch things that confirm our beliefs. We are comforted by people who agree with us. On the other hand we are discomforted by things that disagree with us. So to help keep us in a comfortable place on whatever platform we are using, say Facebook or Twitter, we are targeted with content that strokes our ego by confirming our views – over and over again.

This filter bubble tends to push us deeper and deeper into our beliefs and views, not because they are well thought out, but because it is pounded into our head the more we are exposed to it. It also makes us feel like we are among the vast majority. When we get on our personal social media which is spliced together by the platform to best fit us and our preferences, we would swear the whole world agrees with us because all the cherry picked content makes it seem that way. Plus we on our own, without the help of the media platform, tend to choose to follow people and organizations who agree with us. When someone in our friends list begins to adamantly post an opposing viewpoint, we might tolerate them for a while but eventually we get tired of the stress and anxiety their posts cause us and we quit following them. So the filter bubble is created in partnership by both human nature and technological ego stroking strategies.

The result is an increased polarization in views among the public. Liberals get more liberal and conservatives get more conservative. Atheists become more sure of their position and the religious become insulated in their own worlds. We can lose the ability to consider another person’s opinion or points. We become more judgmental of the opposition and quit listening.

If you’ve read this far, and if you can see in yourself the tendency to insulate yourself with people who agree with you, I urge you to do a couple things. First, work to reduce your social media use to one 30 minute session a day or less. This will allow you time to catch up, but it will prevent you from living in a virtual world with virtual relationships. Second, work to spend more face to face time with people, even people who disagree with you. When we only see their posts we are likely to listen or be open. When we are with them and see their faces, read their body language, and hear their voices we automatically become more open and conversational instead of oppositional.

 

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