Do you feel you can share your thoughts openly?
When you have a disagreement with a co-worker, how do you react?
When your friend makes an offensive remark, do you question them about it?
When your romantic partner hurts your feelings, do you let them know?
If we can't communicate openly with each other about the ways in which we experience the world, than how can we expect circumstances to change?
One of the most pressing issues affecting the health of our democracy is the current state of communication, and few of us are strangers to this. It's become too common to see contrasting positions approached with aggression and vitriol rather than open inquiry. It is my belief that those who hold strong beliefs are those who will fight strongly for them, so it doesn't surprise me to see individual passions bubble to the surface when certain values or beliefs are brought into question. But what seems to be eroding is the willingness to respect those whose passions are different than our own, especially when they come into direct conflict with our own beliefs. And in some ways it feels like a race to the bottom...that our ability to listen and relate is wearing away as politeness and decency become relics of the past. With social media there is no etiquette police helping to frame a constructive debate, no, if you click on the comments section of an article or video, what you're far more likely to see is extreme statements followed by indignation. And this growing trend seems incredibly destructive to our democracy and the state of our freedoms, because respect for one another is the foundation of community, and without that sense of being in it together, we create an opportunity for oppression and authoritarianism to take hold. It's through community connections that we forge social contracts that help us set the groundwork for a healthy society, and that's what we must mend if we want any hope of building a cohesive social framework.
If we can learn to fully open ourselves up, to truly listen to each other and be heard ourselves, imagine what we could come to understand about each other. Being vulnerable isn't easy, as it opens you to criticism if you say something hurtful or bring up issues that are emotionally challenging, but at least it creates an opportunity for real talk and informed change. An uncomfortable conversation built on uncertainty and humility is much more constructive than an aggressive one where each group looks to silence the other for holding differing opinions that might be perceived as ignorant. The truth is that censorship distorts reality, and we propagate censorship each time we deny a person's freedom to participate in the shaping of culture and other societal pillars. But with that power to speak comes responsibility, and that's why openness and humility must also be embraced by the speaker, and not just the listener. Each of us must strive to be thoughtful about the words we choose and the tones we use, because conversation is a two way street, and respect for each other is the bedrock of sustainable relationships. Once that respect is damaged or broken, it is incredibly hard to rebuild, and what is the state of our culture if not a network of millions of unique conversations and ideas that come together to shape prevailing narratives?
We all must recognize the power we hold to shape the world around us. The form that each word and each action takes is a vote for the kind of future you want to create.