Perhaps it’s a bit of an oversimplification, but as social media has brought us closer together, I can’t think of an innovation that has done more to tear us apart. Take in point last weekend, all of the debate and consternation over professional football athletes kneeling during the national anthem. Regardless of how one felt about the actions of these athletes, one thing was clear: everyone felt something about it. Even through my own social media feeds, there were strong opinions shared on either side of this issue; many supported the athletes, many didn’t support the athletes.
As I read through the comments, I could not help think that there is a lot of frustration in the world we live in. There was frustration centered all around the worlds of race, economics, politics, religion. Obviously, when our collective society gets frustrated, it gets frustrated about the heavy items we face everyday.
But as I see the discourse play out in front of my eyes on a screen, I am seeing a trend that worries me. It appears that we are working so hard to be heard, that it doesn’t appear many people are listening. Somewhere along the line, a decision was made that talking was more important than listening. To make matters worse, many of the talking heads we see on the television will look at these flashpoints in society as a great opportunity to have a conversation. My big question is not whether we are willing to have a conversation, but are we even able to have a conversation?
Having a conversation means we are willing to take a step back and listen and to empathize and be drawn into a give and take on the issues we see and how we perceive the world. I am afraid that many of the people I see who are clamoring for a conversation are just looking for another outlet to send their message. They are not interested in listening, just interested in a new audience for their message.
And we all know it works, right? How many times have we talked to someone and convinced someone by just talking and not listening? I am sure we are even more successful when we type a response on a digital screen.
And I am just as guilty.
I am just as willing to go down the rabbit trail of a discussion on social media just like anyone else. And in those times of weakness, I find that I am more interested in what I have to say, rather than what I have to learn.
Maybe that is the lesson through everything we are seeing, hearing and learning stemming from this past weekend. Forget about the National Football League, forget about Donald Trump, and forget about Colin Kaepernick. But never forget that when we talk to someone or we type something on a screen, we are communicating with another person.
We are communicating with someone who may not see the world the way we see it, and that is okay. Each one of us has had different experiences that have shaped who we are. We all have a different hopes and dreams that drive us to own versions of a better tomorrow. We all have our own fears and failures that we try to avoid.
If we are really interested in a conversation, that is great. But instead of reacting to a new conversation as unchartered territory to share our ideas, what would happen if we look at a conversation as a chance to learn something we never thought about before?
And I need these words as much as I think the rest of the world does.
I need to exercise patience, I need to exercise my mind. I need to be willing to see the world from another perspective. I need to be willing to do those things that I find hard. I need to be willing to be uncomfortable.
Through all of this, let’s not forget, that no one is perfect. We have things we are good at and things we aren’t so good at. If we can understand that there is more that we have in common, perhaps we can have better conversations.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.