This piece may be less sunny than my previous posts because it’s about telling the truth in a time when it seems so hard to parse the truth with a constant overload of information and the super-charged nature of the world today. But we will forge on, you and I, and maybe make some useful discoveries about ourselves. At the very least, gain some reflection and feel a little less frustrated.
So, let’s get into it. Firstly, I’m tired. I’m so tired of political posts and memes meant to make a point that is either way overblown, not factually based or just plain mean. Even my own posts. I am guilty, even though I didn’t mean to or want to be. There’s a good chance you are tired of this, too. In the last couple of years, I’ve posted things I later took down because I realized I was reacting to something I didn’t know enough about, arguing with someone who would never hear it, or just being ugly. It’s so easy to get caught up in it sometimes. I’ve seen it from people I respect, love and trust. I’ve been called out, and I’ve called others out for posting untruths, half-truths or anecdotal “evidence.” I don’t like being called out. I also care about the ethics behind my intentions and being authentic in everything I do, so when I am called out, I really do consider what’s being presented to me. A lot of times, I determine the other person has a point and will either meet them halfway, or just pull the damn thing down if what I am sharing isn’t in line with the truth or charitable when there is room to be.
I don’t often find this in reverse. Part of me understands. Whatever was posted evoked an emotion in the person who posted it, and even if it’s wrong or not entirely true, they believe in the feeling or underlying message of it, so they leave it up. Sometimes, they even admit it may be false, but it stays up, anyway, to further propagate it as the truth and spread it to others who feel the same way. This is called confirmation bias. Most, if not all of us, have fallen for it, and it is dangerous.
At the heart of every emotionally or politically (often both) charged issue, there is truth and middle ground. Unfortunately, we are burying the truth with all these falsities that pile up like so much waste, blocking us from any path to one another. It takes so much work to uncover what is real in all this mess, so we don’t even try. We just fall back to our defaults and stand on what we think we think we know and is confirmed via some idiotic generalization or outright lie. It’s alarming and heartbreaking.
I consider myself a true liberal, which should not be confused with the Far Left. To give you an idea of what I mean, I think people should be free to live their lives as they choose so long as it brings no harm to others. This includes sexual orientation, guns and capitalism. I support freedom in all these things and a lot of others that I am happy to discuss. But, for this application, I mean only to express how and why I have friends all over the political and social spectrum. I think it is a boon for me. I am constantly aware of how the people in my life view the world, and many see it much different than I do. Or, it often seems. At times, it’s also exhausting, as truth-seeking often is. Because I feel the need to dig deeper and try to understand why or how someone could take a stance different than mine. Does that sound egocentric? It should, because it is and it’s in all of us. At the core of our existence is one person that is most important to us, no matter how much we love our children, partner, parents or friends. We don’t exist without ourselves, so our own perspectives come first. That is natural.
The key here, I think, is to know yourself and understand first why you believe the way you do. I come from a very conservative and religious background. Around 30, I found myself questioning the things I accepted as truth, mostly without ever having learned for myself those things to be true. So much in me has shifted since then, and I am still ever changing. It isn’t because I am weak or lacking foundation. It’s because I have come to value truth and perspective, and I have learned that there is so much to know and come to understand. It is never ending. I can relate to some people who are happy Trump is in office, although I do not feel the same way. I can concede that his administration has done some good, some bad, and that lies and half-truths on both sides have gotten us here. I accept that Obama, W, Clinton and all who came before did some good and shady shit, too.
The things I feel most strongly about are the things that get me into the most trouble. Is this true for you? Isn’t it easy to get angry or upset when you see something that makes fun of or discounts what you are passionate about? Of course it is. It feels like a personal attack. Sometimes it is. So, what do you do? I’ve been working on that, and what I have found to be most effective is to—first and foremost—not respond. Not at the moment, maybe not ever. You must give yourself time to consider the source. What is the intent? Even if you think it malicious at first, start with the most charitable possibility. This is especially important if you’re going to respond to a stranger. You don’t know them or what place they come from in life. Consider the post or message. Is it true? Just because you feel like something is wrong doesn’t make it so. Research it. Do the same before you put anything out there yourself. Remember that strong emotions make us reactive, and nobody responds well to being called stupid, ignorant or evil. You may have “known” something all your life that simply isn’t true. You may feel a certain way that factual data do not support. In truth, this is more likely than not for most of us. It’s good to put the things you cling to on trial and have a solid foundation before you speak, post or react.
It’s also important to ask questions. People don’t like to be preached to or spoken to with opposition. Not you, not me. The first line of questioning should always happen within, though. Why does this make me mad? What about this rings untrue to me and why? Could I be wrong? Do I believe this will get through to anyone who doesn’t agree? If you’ve questioned yourself, you’ll be in a much better position to ask questions of the other person without coming across as hostile or condescending and will be more likely to learn something or teach something. This is so important to do before you speak or post, no matter if it is in response to something or not. Many times I wish I had done so before I put my foot in my mouth or posted something that caused undue discord. The last thing I want to do is to lose respect, friendship or the opportunity for honest dialogue because I didn’t think or question myself beforehand. I’ve done it. It sucks.
I really want us to find that common ground, which I know exists. Learn from each other, be charitable to one another and don’t spread falsehoods. Engage when it makes sense but be open. Fact-check your own shit, and, for the love of god, admit when you’re wrong and retract as quickly as possible. We have enough BS floating around out there that people are buying and selling like it will run out tomorrow. We need to be kinder to each other and stop propagating hate. We also need to wake up to some realities that are and have been threatening us as a society and globally. I think we can do all these things peacefully and with diplomacy. The solutions are never easy, but if we can’t clear the trash and find the path to each other, we will stay stuck in the garbage until we finally self-destruct. Like it or not, we are all in this together.