These are tumultuous times. Make no mistake about that.
Whether you’re a liberal combatting the orange figurine in the highest office of the world or a conservative telling the crybabies to shut-up and get over it, emotions are high, beliefs are entrenched, and humanility is evaporating faster than arctic glaciers. (If our president can make up words, so can I.) It’s gotten to the point where non-partisan statements are being interpreted equally as threatening as those directly in opposition.
I admit that I get stressed out daily because of today’s political landscape, but it has less to do with the tiny-handed man in power and more to do with how people are treating each other and our inability to have an educated, open dialogue with those that have opposing viewpoints.
In order to reduce this stress on a personal level or just become a better activist for your cause, I suggest considering the following points.
Create your digital bubble but seek to expand it
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, both safety and belonging are necessary. Given how much time we collectively spend online, I argue that we seek safety within our digital social circles. And that’s ok. You need to have a place where you feel safe sharing your beliefs and viewpoints without being attacked and feeling threatened psychologically.
But that’s not to say you should stay there forever. That just leads to the close-mindedness and ignorance you accuse the other side of having rather than trying to understand their viewpoint.
Once you feel safe in your bubble, seek out opportunities to expand it. Don’t explode it in one fell swoop by jumping into a debate on the opposite end of your belief spectrum. Find a friend’s status or update that appears to be having a respectful discussion and then enter it with an open mind.
I don’t necessarily believe each and every single word that leaves your lips need be carefully calculated or that everyone needs to be handled with gloves, but you should be cognizant of the weight of the words you use. In a project management class I took, there’s an entire chapter devoted to delivering a message without the weight.
You choose the words you use. Some words carry more emotion than others yet mean the same thing. Consider these two statements:
“Of course you’re pro-life. I wouldn’t expect a bible thumper to have it any other way. This is why you’re wrong…”
“I understand that your religious beliefs prevent you from endorsing abortion, but can we agree that…”
The message is the same in each, that you disagree with their beliefs. But which one has less weight?
If your objective is to truly understand someone and potentially change their mind, which statement is more likely to further a conversation? Which one is more likely to cause the other person to further entrench themselves in their own beliefs as well as their beliefs of the other side?
Spend more time in the real world
Interacting with people from behind a screen makes it easy to dehumanize the person you’re talking with. Afterall, they’re just words on a screen. They’re not body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice. They’re not clothing or hairstyle or other indicators of a person’s background or life experiences.**
[** You can tell me those things are superficial, judgemental, and inaccurate and that you don’t base assumptions on those qualities. But that would be just as inaccurate as “not seeing color,” at least initially. Of course those things become less important as you learn more about that person, but it does set an initial starting point in how you approach a conversation.]
I am absolutely guilty of this myself. I abhor some people’s entire digital presence. Nearly every update I see from them makes me think negatively of them and their beliefs. Right or wrong, that’s what happens to me.
But when I see them in person? It’s great! I genuinely enjoy that person’s presence, and I don’t feel as though either of us are faking it. We joke. We discuss. We agree on some things. We disagree on others. As human beings, we interact fabulously. As words on a screen, I can’t coexist with them.
Don’t make enemies of your friends
On two occasions, I’ve been on the same side of an issue as someone else, but because I wasn’t radical enough or loud enough in my support, I was publicly chastised in one instance and verbally attacked in another (with words on a screen of course).
My relationship with these individuals are obviously deeper and more complex than the simple sentence I wrote above, but I have completely disengaged with them and those associated issues. I will no longer stand side by side with them or support their methods of activism.
If remaining silent in the face of injustice is the same as supporting it, remember, your aggressive and hostile tactics might be the cause of someone remaining silent.
To be clear, I haven’t changed sides on those topics out of spite, and I still fight for those beliefs. I just won’t engage in conversations when one of those people may be present. Which is basically all of social media.
You also have to keep an open mind
Your background is not someone else’s background. How you were raised is not how they were raised. The local job market is not the same as their local job market.
I’ve been hinting at this throughout, but now it’s time to plainly state it:
Finding common ground with your opposition is where real discussions start and solutions can be found.
This means you have to keep an open mind, too. There is a possibility that once you put yourself in their shoes, you might actually understand their logic. In most instances, an extreme viewpoint is not the answer. It’s somewhere in the middle. But if you’re unwilling to change your mind, you can’t expect them to change theirs either.
Put the “act” back in activism
The loudest people on my timeline are also the people that DO the least.
They will claim, as I’ve already seen this argument in action numerous times, that in today’s technological landscape, being active on social media is doing something. I say that sharing links and retweeting Twitter posts don’t actually serve food in a homeless shelter. They don’t transfer cash from your wallet to your church. They don’t hold a sign at the airport. They don’t call your senators and representatives. They don’t vote for your city councilperson and local judge. They don’t go to trash clean-ups at your local park.
With all the division and anger spewing from keyboards across the world, can you imagine what it would be like if we put just as much energy into our local communities?
When all else fails, spend more time outside
Not only does this get you away from technology, social media, and an endless stream of media and opinions that oppose your viewpoint, further causing you stress and anger, but there’s a host of other health benefits.
The better you can manage your stress, the better off you’ll be when you encounter those that cause it.