This whole realization started about five years ago when I realized most of the people I was friends with on social media shared very similar world views to me. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, until it becomes a bad thing. Until it becomes an echo chamber of epic proportions. Lately, it’s what I’m seeing on social media and in the news media. Pick a side—the echo chamber is in fully operational mode on social media. Okay, let me change that. The echo chamber has been in fully operational mode for years, but it just seems to be all the worse in the last year or so. We don’t want facts. We want narratives that fit our world view, that reinforce our biases, that bolster our perceptions. (Case in point—the fiasco the news media created the past winter starting with the Buzzfeed story about Michael Cohen and President Trump culminating with viral feeding frenzy over the high school students from a Catholic boys’ school. Before that, it was the frenzy over President Obama’s birth certificate and gold curtains at the White House.)
Whether we want to admit it or not, we (as a first world society) have a strong tendency to focus on the negative. If there isn’t a negative, we have a very real habit of creating a negative. Let’s be honest here—most of us have a roof over our heads, food on the table, and our biggest worry is who will be voted off Survivor. When things are generally good, our minds are hard-wired to search for problems to solve. (That’s why, most socio-economists and historians agree our greatest revolutions in industry and thought have always come from periods of “generally good,” because people had the time to seek out “problems” to solve.) If we can’t find problems, we create them. We create drama because it gives us an emotional jolt and a reason to complain. All of which, could explain why a certain freshman member of Congress has said that people in this country who are in the same age bracket as her have come of age without knowing prosperity. (That comment alone makes my brain hurt.) We forget what hard times really look like—look to Venezuela for what hard times can be. We forget what war looks like. I mean all-out war, not remote-controlled drone strikes. And, before anyone has a meltdown that I’m making light of those men and women of our armed services killed or injured in the last 18 years, think again. I have mad respect for our military. (Some of the brass…)
What this echo chamber has done is create a culture of weakness and victimhood. Yes, I can hear the arguments now—I don’t have any idea what it’s like to be a person of color, or gay, or lesbian, or transgendered, or any other of a myriad of “tribes”. You’re right, I don’t have any idea. But I’m willing to listen, to have empathy, to attempt to understand. When you’ve stood in the echo chamber long enough, you begin to believe the echoes and you begin to believe you are a victim and to find offense with everything. Yes, EVERYTHING. It takes strength to not be offended by everything. It takes maturity to realize that others don’t, can’t, and some probably will never think like you do. It takes even more strength to say, “I accept you. I accept you as you are, where you are, and how you are.” It takes the greatest of fortitude to refrain from name-calling and labeling others not in your “tribe” with the vilest of epitaphs, whether racial or sexual or religious.
You can hold firmly to your values while listening to other viewpoints. (Note I said “LISTENING” not simply hearing–because as my dad once said to me, “You might hear me, but you sure aren’t listening to me.”) If you’re just hearing those other voices, you’re just going through the motions until you can raise your voice louder to silence those you disagree with. That’s not strength. That’s coercion. That’s intimidation. A mentally strong person can admit to being in the wrong and will take responsibility, without having their ego crushed. A mentally strong person can hear and listen to other points of view without surrendering values and without belittling, degrading, dehumanizing those others. A mentally strong person can also find common ground.
How strong are you?