Have you noticed how hostile interpersonal communication has become? Back in the era of manners, people disagreed, but did so on a foundation of respect. Today it’s okay to attack, defame, and belittle anyone who doesn’t agree with you on a foundation of snarkiness.
Everywhere you look, people are tearing each other’s heads off with comments like: People like you should all move to Antarctica and form a stupid colony.
In one lightning fast instant, we are making snap judgments about others and discounting them as human beings. In the dualistic nature of the world we live in, we’re increasingly picking sides and categorizing everyone we meet as one of us, or one of them.
I find that snarkiness increases as the perceived boundary between us increases. For example, it’s a lot more common to flip someone off and call them an idiot from the safety of your car than standing next to them in the grocery store checkout line.
The rise of the internet has created a new battlefield where people can unleash the fury of their repressed frustrations on each other while sitting on their favorite chair and eating a twinkie in their slippers. You can find it everywhere, especially the blogosphere, which thrives on the free expression of ideas.
Why are we less likely to demean each other face to face? Is it the possibility of consequences that keeps us in check? Is it the fear of having to back up our statements? Is it because we are forced to see that the other person is a human with feelings?
Not that any of this is stopping some of us today. Apparently, we are beginning to feel so isolated from each other that our perceived boundaries separate us from the people right next to us.
Rosie and Donald
Who could forget the never ending verbal battle between Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump. Have you ever seen two professionals with such a high public profile behave so immaturely?
As a news junkie, I followed every round of slams. I have to say that the intellectual level of the dialogue was at about a second grade level. Here are the Cliff’s Notes in case you missed it:
Rosie: You’re Dumb.
Donald: You’re Fat.
Rosie: You’re Broke.
Donald: You’re Ugly.
Rosie: You look Funny.
Donald: I’ll Sue.
The thing that drives me crazy is that this is a conversation between two highly intelligent people! If you just heard the transcript, you would think it happened on a playground.
What this tells me is that we have reached a point in our culture where snark has superceded wit.
What Happens when we Assume
When you use snark, you are making three assumptions:
1. You are separate from the other person.
2. You know the truth.
3. You are on a higher level than the other person.
Even though technology has made us more connected than ever, we feel more apart from each other than any time before. To make up for this deficiency, people are banding together more and more in groups and putting down each other.
Many theologians, scientists, and spiritual leaders believe that duality is a necessary illusion that functions as a way for us to experience ourselves. If they are right, ultimately we are not separated at all; and if we are not separated, then why do we treat each other so badly?
Moving deeper into duality and separation is a sign of insecurity. If you feel secure, you don’t need to hurt other people to feel better about yourself. If you get your sense of self-worth from within yourself, you don’t need to get it by conforming to polarized groups.
Does anyone really know the truth? It’s quite a stretch to automatically assume that someone else is stupid just because they have a different opinion.
How can it be possible for two polarized groups to each passionately believe that their group is right and the other is wrong? One of them has to be wrong, right? Or, maybe both are right within their own paradigm.
After all the work we have been through to promote equality, are we really going to step back and assume that everyone who doesn’t agree with us is beneath us? It’s perfectly okay to disagree with someone and respect them at the same time.
Bring Respect Back
I’d love to see the day when we can have respectful debates again. I’ll know that day is here when I see people actually listening to each other instead of talking at each other; when people are principled, but open to changing their minds if a better paradigm presents itself.
If we are ever to find that place, we need to learn: 1) to be secure, and 2) to think critically. I have found that you cannot give someone security, a person must find it within; but you can help people find it within themselves simply by treating them like human beings.
Critical thinking means thinking for yourself. It means rejecting the idea of believing what the group thinks just because you want to be a part of that group. Critical thinking requires security because it can be very lonely to have your own thoughts.
It’s only the insecure that isolate others. Critical thinkers are comfortable with befriending and respecting other critical thinkers who have different views than them. When two critical thinkers get together, the product can be highly creative and intelligent debate.
I know, it’s hard to bite your tongue when someone throws it at you. When I am faced with a snarky internet comment, my immediate instinct is to fight. There have been many times when I have written a nasty rebuttal.
Some of those times, I was smart enough to deleted it before it was sent. On the few times I hit send before my senses came back, I felt stupid afterward. It’s never as satisfying as it seems.