Somewhere along the way we have lost nuance. It has almost completely disappeared from our cultural interactions. You are either for women’s rights or you are a baby killer. You are either a proponent of Black Lives Matter or a racist. You are pro second amendment rights or a communist trying to steal guns from law abiding citizens. You are homophobic or you must be for gay marriage. Vaccinating or not vaccinating your children makes you a hero in one camp and an idiot in the other. But there are only two camps. You must choose. It is all or nothing. Stand up for what you believe in. Don’t be wishy washy. You are either for me or against me. We’re best buddies because we agree on everything, or I unfriend you on Facebook and write you off as one of the enemy. No nuance is allowed.
In a culture made up of Facebook memes, Snapchat convos, tweets, texts, and 24 hour breaking news we have forgotten how to just talk. We only know how to shout. We use all caps and demand our ‘rights’. Politics and religion and every other area of our lives gets reduced to a sound bite. Completely accept me as I am, or hit the bricks. I’m a victim and if you don’t agree with how badly I have been treated then you are the worst bully ever and have lost your right to share my air. We can’t sit together and work through our issues, because we’re both punching iPhone screens in order to read and ‘like’ the comments of those who agree with us. We don’t talk, we label. And once you’ve had a label slapped on you forget trying to talk your way out of it. Labels are forever.
Our ears are deaf to nuance. Perhaps you want to initiate a conversation exploring the various reasons why someone might seek an abortion. You begin by stating that you deeply value life, even life in the womb and that abortion is a difficult subject for you to engage. People don’t hear you after that. The simple words ‘I value life in the womb’ is heard as ‘I’m opposed to abortion’ and it is all automatic after that. You hate women. You are sexist. You want to return to the days of back alley abortions. You are a right wing hater who wants to rule over women’s bodies like some modern day Hitler. The person you engaged needs to immediately block your posts and unfriend you on Facebook. You are attacked and your character maligned. If you are a white male you are especially considered to have no voice since abortion can only be talked about by women and minorities. Post your thoughts on Facebook and you are immediately blocked out of concern about what the person’s ‘good’ friends might think. Your ‘friend’ can’t tolerate anyone who disagrees with him or her and believes they don’t need that kind of negativity in their lives. Suddenly you are persona non grata. You’re gone. No more talking.
Conversations are shouted and no longer heard. We ‘converse’ in all caps. Guests on the twenty four hour news shows speak past each other condemning each other as out of touch while practically screaming emotionally charged buzzwords and loudly proclaiming, trite, sound bite cliches past each other. The noise does nothing to solve the problem, but in this age of bellowing we falsely believe that if we shout the other person down, we somehow ‘win’ the argument.
We become more and more polarized about less and less. We fight over things about which we have no first hand knowledge. Facts no longer matter. We somehow ‘know’ whether someone a thousand miles away committed a crime despite no arrest being made or actual facts being introduced in a court of law because of a tweet on someone’s Twitter feed or a scrap of video played a thousand times on CNN. We’re sure that every situation is exactly like every other situation we’ve encountered despite our protestations that we are open minded and want to wait for the facts. We don’t want to wait. Feelings rule the day. Each person has their own ‘facts’ and mock the other person’s sources. We drive wedges to deepen the divides rather than build bridges to span them.
And, of course, it is always the other person who is out of bounds, not us. We love that we are possessors of the ‘truth’ and that the other person is just plain wrong. There is seldom a recognition that we all might just be a little bit wrong. Because of that we assume that silence means agreement. That the other person concurs with our position despite them never having said so. We might occasionally have a bit of doubt that our friends share our beliefs, so we post a ‘share if you agree’ meme and learn who really loves our political choice or loves Jesus or hates cancer or cares about autism. Then we check who actually shares our post, who just likes our post, and who ignores us, or posts an opposing meme. Who is ‘for me’ and who is dead wrong?
Many of the things I’ve learned in life have come through reasoned discussions with reasoned people whose opinions were different from mine. People who saw the world differently than I did. People who could make impassioned arguments without giving in to vitriol and rage. People who listened all the way through, heard what was said, thought carefully before responding, cared enough to affirm where I might be right, and gently, passionately, and kindly presented an alternate position. Sadly, I just go deaf when people yell.