Saturday, September 5, 2015

Improving our Dialogue in Social Media

Social media, in all of its forms, has provided us with an amazing method for communicating with family, friends, colleagues, and perfect strangers.  Personally, I think it is an effective way to keep up with my parents and siblings, who live in different states.  We are able to provide updates and photos.  On short notice we can ask about a favorite recipe or for a needed fix-it tip.  I also enjoy using social media to track reputable news sources in order to stay current on the local, national, and world happenings. 

Different social media platforms also allow strangers connected by issues and interests to carry on a dialogue.  I enjoy the opportunity to learn from those that share my opinions, values, and beliefs; and I value the opportunity to discuss topics with those that have different perspectives, beliefs, and values than I do. 

As a forum, the Internet makes people comfortable behaving in ways that most probably wouldn’t in polite, personal company.  I’ve reached the point where I avoid the comments on the most innocuous of Internet articles.  Some people seem to have a need to be negative in the case of any level of disagreement.  Some want to argue with others on every issue.  Anger and an overwhelming desire to be right drive many people in their online dialogues.  Sadly, they fail to realize that, (or don’t care), that anger-based arguments are ineffective.  Belittling and belligerent language doesn’t change minds or hearts; rather it tends to push those with other ideas to entrench themselves further.

Social media is an amazing platform for freedom of speech, but many individuals seem to lose their minds whenever someone states an idea, belief, or principle that doesn’t match up with their own.  People will argue for the right to speak their minds, but would refuse others the same right in case of any disagreement.  It’s seems, almost, that with the advent of the internet people finally began to realize that there are multiple, competing ideas and beliefs in the world—and even more shocking, we have learned that some of our very own family members, friends, and colleagues have ideas different from ours.  Being offended shouldn’t be our default, or even reasoned, reaction to most dissimilar ideas.

People cling to the rights granted by the First Amendment in support of their one-sided dialogue, but have no problem when others are quieted.  Confusion also seems to drive claims to the protection of the First Amendment.  Many seem to think that the First Amendment gives them the right to say anything they want with absolutely no consequences.  In their mind, those who agree with them should be able to say anything, no matter how potentially offensive, in any setting without consequence.  Yet, they would never consider it acceptable to allow someone that disagrees with them to come into their homes, their places of worship, their businesses and spout offensive ideas.  Of course, we have the right, in this great country, to say what we want and to share our ideas, but there will be consequences of saying things at the wrong time, in the wrong place, or to the wrong people.  I can lose my mind on my boss at work; tell him what I think of his poor management.  It’s unlikely I will be prosecuted, but I probably will lose my job or opportunities for promotion.

Another result of social media and Internet is the decaying value of news on the internet.  Opinions are now represented as facts, and facts as absolute truth.  Multiple news sources, of questionable integrity and reliability have arisen, many with competing viewpoints and agendas on all sides of different issues and political persuasions.  Even “reputable” news outlets are becoming looser with their reporting, giving into the need to scoop stories and internal agendas in exchange for accuracy and importance.

Hopefully this blog post doesn’t fall into the categories that I describe above.  My goal is to call all of us, especially me, to a higher standard of dialogue.  More often than I would like, I find myself feeling offended by what others have written or shared on social media.  I’ve had to work hard to be careful about my reactions and what I write.  It’s important for me to avoid strident and aggressive language.  I think I can do that while still expressing myself, and formulating arguments in support of my ideas and values.  If I can’t do so without getting angry or engendering anger, then I may not have a very good argument. Today I’m careful about engaging on controversial topics and I’m very careful about who with I engage.  I’m not shy about sharing items in support of my values and beliefs, but I’m careful about how I do it—careful, but of course not perfect.

As I struggle with the climate on social media and my response to it, I fall back to the ideas shared by Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I think he teaches a better way, a higher way, based on the teachings of Jesus Christ without being offensive to those who might not share his beliefs.  He said the following:

 “Many in this world are afraid and angry with one another.  While we understand these feelings, we need to be civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions.  This is especially true when we disagree.  The Savior taught us to love even our enemies…there are some who feel that venting their personal anger or deeply held opinions is more important than conducting themselves as Jesus Christ lived and taught.  I invite each one of individually to recognize that how we disagree is a real measure of who we are and whether we truly follow the Savior.  It is appropriate to disagree, but it is not appropriate to be disagreeable.  Violence and vandalism are not the answer to our disagreements.  If we show love and respect even in adverse circumstance, we become more like Christ.”

I also hold to the concept taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith when he said:

“We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

Meaningful dialogue can only take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect.