Monday, August 13, 2012

Shooting blind

I remember seventh grade US History with Mrs. McKercher, when we learned about the battle of Bunker Hill. "Don't fire until you can see the whites of their eyes," the soldiers were told. Presumably, this was to conserve ammunition.

I wonder if it is harder to kill someone if you are looking at his eyes instead of dropping a bomb on him from a mile overhead.


I've been so bothered at all the verbal skirmishes taking place on social media lately. Facebook and Twitter are starting to feel like a war zone. Keep your head down and watch what you type, or someone may shoot you.

People have been expressing their opinions forever, long before everyone had a personal internet soapbox on which to stand. I will always defend your right to express your thoughts, whether I agree with you or not.

I have no problem with people expressing opinions.

My problem is with how people are doing it.

Not that long ago, people sat around together and talked about things. There were still quarrels and issues to be debated. People still got angry at each other and yelled and carried on in ridiculous ways and tried to convince each other that they were wrong.

The difference was that they were talking to each other.

We are not talking. We're typing. Emphatically. IN CAPS, or in italics. On our phones, which we used to use for talking. Sometimes we can't even be bothered to include all the letters in the words we use because we're in such a hurry to make our point.

We find an article by someone else that expresses some of our thoughts, and we "share" it, maybe type a comment about it. Someone we know reads the comment, skims the article, types back a reaction, and we have a battle of words on a screen because of it.

Bigot. Homophobe. Racist. Idiot. 
All typed neatly into a box for the world to see.


What has happened to us?

So much drama. It's not even real, although it's about real issues.

Social media is making all the division so much worse than it really is.

So we don't agree. So what? People have always disagreed on matters of importance (and plenty of unimportant things, too). That's what debate is for. Let's sit down with some tea and a chocolate chip cookie (obtained from a company whose political views we find mutually agreeable, perhaps) and have a discussion.

What happened to nuance? Where is the dialogue anymore? Have we forgotten entirely with all the faceless typing that is flying back and forth that there are people on the other end of those words we're slinging? People we know, with feelings and thoughts and experiences that have made them the way they are?

I'm not sure I could ever walk up to a person I know, even a casual acquaintance or someone I don't like all that much, and say, "I will no longer be your friend because you say things that infuriate me and support political causes with which I disagree."

It's not that hard to hit the "unfriend" button, though (or to click "hide" if you're feeling less extreme).

When we constantly condense our views, thoughts, feelings and perspectives into a few words that will fit on our facebook statuses or our twitter feeds, we risk losing the ability to discuss how we arrived at those views. Worse, we can easily forget that views evolve, that people are unfinished, that minds change and grow and open and develop.

Having more information than ever flowing past us in a steady stream, all day and all night long, has backfired. Instead of taking in new ideas and thinking about them, we are tempted to filter out everything we don't immediately agree with in an attempt to avoid becoming totally overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it.

Not many of us are planning to change our minds about anything. I don't even believe that most of us intend to change other people's minds any longer. It feels like almost no one is having a conversation that others can join...everyone is just making his or her point over and over again, as loudly as possible, and ignoring or vilifying those who are making the opposite point.

It really does feel like it is all about opposition these days.

Would we have more regard for each other's humanity if we did our disagreeing face to face, instead of typing our thoughts into our Samsungs or iPhones and feeling our blood pressure rise as we read the on-screen responses?

Don't shoot until you can see the whites of their eyes.

Why? Because no matter how much we disagree, we're all humans, and we still have to share our grocery stores, our towns, our countries, and our planet with each other. 

I'd like to humbly suggest that we do more talking and less typing. Let's start our conversations on social media and finish them over drinks and dessert. A little eye contact could go a long way toward reminding us that we are neither donkeys nor elephants, but people.

Maybe then we could make some progress toward working together on solutions instead of just reinforcing everything that divides us.