A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with some adults and kids, and the talk turned to Trump and Pence. One of the kids asked who he was, so I responded with, “He’s the guy from Indiana who made it legal to deny services to the LGBTQ community.” Boyfriend followed that up with, “To be fair, he made it legal to deny services to anyone; that just happened to be the main outcome.” And then in chimes a known right-leaner who says, “Well, it actually just gave businesses the FREEDOM to choose who they wanted to serve.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about that exchange. How it is that two arguably decent human beings can view the same situation from such different perspectives. What causes that? Where did those two roads diverge? And I guess the biggest question of all… how can you place more value on the freedom of a business (or, like in the state of TN, a mental health provider) to choose who they want to serve than you place on the needs of underserved and marginalized populations?
This all led me to thinking about where we currently are as a society. So divisive in our thoughts and conversations and behaviors, it’s as though there’s no room for respectful discourse anymore, much less the possibility of being open to changing our minds – or at LEAST seeing things from another perspective. Like, politics and religion and “alternative lifestyles” are off-limits, because how dare you question what I believe! How can you challenge yourself to grow, if you’re not willing to listen to other sides? How can you be so firmly entrenched in your beliefs when you won’t venture outside your comfort zone? Why are you so afraid to admit you might be wrong, or that you might be a racist, or at the very least, contributing to the systemic racism that is so pervasive in our country? Why does it have to be one thing or the other? Why can’t people see that just because you criticize something or someone, it doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the good, as well.
Constructive criticism is as important as critical thinking, and I think our society is drastically lacking in both right now.
A lot of this can be attributed to what I have dubbed “snapshot thinking.” You know, the way we only get little bits and pieces of information, usually stuff that is already in keeping with existing belief systems and usually from sources that align with bias, and we just let that further affirm that we are correct and everyone else is wrong. Like, for instance, people who are convinced that WE ARE IN DANGER AND EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE AND WE MUST BE SAVED, despite evidence to the contrary:
The snapshot thinking comes into play with the internet, too. You’re only getting snapshots of the lives people are leading, and it’s only what they want you to see. Facebook? Snapshots. Instagram? Definitely snapshots. Twitter? 140 character snapshots. And if you don’t take the time to investigate and flush out the picture with research and questions and critical thought, then you’re left to fill in the blanks with your own bias and assumptions.
This never turns out well.
It’s my understanding that, as humans, we’ve evolved to make snap judgments in times of danger. But so much has happened to complicate that process that now we rely on it for our entire existence. We don’t ask probing questions. We instead get lazy and expect the little bits and pieces to suffice when it comes to educating ourselves, whether about the world around us, the community in which we live, or the people we profess to love. Snapshot thinking – the satisfaction with bits and pieces that likely reaffirm what we’ve already assumed, because we are quick to dismiss anything that challenges us in any real meaningful way – is corroding our ability to relate, our desire and ability empathize with others.
But we need connection, now more than ever. We need to be willing to learn, to grow, to be challenged. We need to ask questions, and we need to evaluate how our thinking and our behavior might be contributing to the marginalization of others. Doing so does not take anything away from who we are or what we have; instead, I like to think it adds to our character, makes us better as humans.
I find myself conducting my own cost/benefit analyses on different areas of my life. Should we get a cat, or should we get two? (Notice I didn’t ask whether or not we should get one at all…) What are the costs associated with one vs. two, and what are the benefits? (Final answer TBD next weekend, but probably the answer is TWO.) Should I continue the MSW program, knowing it’s no longer the actual path I want to pursue, but also knowing what I learn would lend itself to my growth in the human services field and as a human being? (No.) Should I return to Facebook, knowing it was such a chaotic and disconnected experience before, but also knowing that most of my friends rely on it for communication and otherwise we’re all just out of touch with each other? (Yes. And so far, so good. Mostly.)
And, finally, what are the costs of having these difficult conversations with people I love? What are the benefits? Is it better to just keep everyone comfortable in their existing beliefs? Should I just worry about myself and my own expansion and growth as a human, or is there a moral responsibility to try and bring others along?
Final thought, courtesy of John Gruber on Twitter, and it’s honestly something that should drive home what racism looks like to ANYONE, if you think about it long, hard, and well enough: What if, instead of Trump, Barack Obama were the one with three wives and five kids between them? What would the discourse look like then?