Politics has an interesting way of bringing out the best in us...and the worst. The current election season is no exception; it's just that only the loudest voices are getting the most attenion. Even though there's a variety of causes, social media is partially to blame.
Far too frequently, I come across people on social media saying things like,
- "If you're a Trump supporter, go ahead and unfriend me," or,
- "Just stop engaging; they will never change their mind."
This attitude is unhealthy for several reasons. First, it's simply not the answer to the problem complained of. Despite how impossible it may seem, it is near-certainly impossible to change someone's mind without an external motivator. Second, not only does it fail to correct the problem, silencing disagreeable people exacerbates the problem. It encourages their sense of solidary—that they are right and victorious. Last, willful abstention from expressing opinion and thought is a disservice to our history. The failure to take advantage of our freedom of thought is to take it for granted.
But, social media makes it so easy to silence the opinions with which we disagree! With a simple click of a button, we can instantly withdraw from engagement—unfollow, hide, block, unfriend, report, or even mark as spam. Let's face it: it's never been easier to utterly and completely censor the ideas and opinions we encounter.
Given the ease of insulating oneself from disagreeable voices, we increasingly reinforce our own opinions by excluding opinions to the contrary. We become entrenched in our viewpoints, often without ever being conscious of what is happening. As more and more people self-insulate, opinions become rigid because they are no longer scrutinized against our value systems. The resulting inflexibility has led to the polarization of political ideologies in America and nearly eradicated "moderate" thinking. Inflammatory rhetoric by raucous politicians has no doubt amplified the self-insulation and resulting polarization.
In closing, I ask that each of us refrain from falling victim to the impulsive, natural inclination to withdraw from people with whom we disagree. Admittedly, yes, it might seem futile to express your opinions to someone who is staunchly unresponsive to critical thinking. But, that doesn't mean we should surrender altogether. Freedom of independent thought and expression is the bedrock of our democratic society. To preserve this foundation, we must keep engaging one another even if it seems as though we are the last bastion of rationality. It's important to remember that political discourse wasn't always as divisive as it is now, and it is indeed possible to restore its integrity and decency: