March 18, 2015

Someone Disagrees With You on the Internet

Hammertime stop sign near Espoo

I'd like to make three bold statements that do not strike me as even remotely controversial but which many people seem to have trouble accepting:
  1. Just because someone disagrees with me does not make him or her crazy, stupid, or even wrong.
  2. The fact that someone disagrees with me does not mean that I am somehow entitled to treat him or her poorly.
  3. Points #1 and #2 are not specific to me; they apply to you as well.
You do not have to agree with these statements. After all, I might be wrong. But if you do agree with them, then you might find that it can sometimes be helpful to ask yourself whether the manner in which you behave reflects your agreement. That is, if someone who did not know you were to observe you for awhile, would he or she correctly conclude that you believed these things? Doing this sort of check-in periodically is one way to avoid hypocrisy.

The Internet has become a very different place since I started Atheist Revolution in 2005. I sometimes have trouble recognizing what now passes for communication (e.g., rage blogging, call-out culture, public shaming). And so, it seems necessary to remind people of something so many seem to have forgotten as social media hastens our descent into a state of perpetual outrage. Elevatorgate, "Dear Muslima," gamergate, shirtgate, manspreading. Who can keep up with it all? The constant seems to be that far too many people seek to dehumanize and destroy those who dare to commit the sin of disagreeing with them.

This strikes me as unfortunate because I believe that much can be gained by encountering different perspectives. We not only learn more about others and their views, but we also learn a great deal about ourselves in the process. Attempting to shield ourselves from different viewpoints does not seem conducive to healthy development.

Where do the current trends lead? Do we eventually reach the point where communication is no longer possible with those who do not share our viewpoint on each and every subject? I hope not, but this possibility does not seem as farfetched as it once did.

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