It’s weird that people seem so overly sensitive these days when society is awash like never before in so many imaginative and opposing views and opinions; you’d think we’d have a much thicker skin towards outrageousness. Angry outrage towards individuals or groups may be justified in many cases but there are times where I do not find that justification compelling enough to boycott, shun, block or attack others (or support any of those actions). It’s become trendy to speak out against whom your community has labeled and promoted as “the enemy”. It’s part of crafting our reputation and identity.
Obvious to me is the tribal reaction to stuff on social media that then blows up even more via social media. Whether it be because of political candidate preference or reaction to ill-advised satirical commentary, it takes so little for us to unfriend people and never want anything to do with them again.
I’m beginning to think this social media thing has some serious drawbacks.
We’d know a lot less about things people do that piss us off if Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist and the internet didn’t transmit half-truths immediately around the world. It’s not giving us time to think about what really happened.
I’ve had my share of problems with overreacting and I’m certain it will happen again and again, but at least I’m trying to not do that, since it’s REALLY unhelpful in resolving most any issue. As a person who values the real story, evidence in support of conclusions, and ultimately the best overall answer to a problem – also called critical thinking – I’m making a concerted effort to search for clarity and understanding and NOT simply react emotionally.
There are two observations that crystalized over the past week for me:
- Always give people a chance to explain.
- Situations are almost never explainable completely by a few facts but personal values are influential. Or, I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Let’s take the Richard Dawkins disinvite as an example. I was shocked to see NECSS conference organizers retract their invitation without a decent explanation. This occurred late Wednesday. I thought about it all Thursday hoping more would come out. When nothing did, early Friday I wrote a Facebook post that requested further explanation and I contacted the organizers directly:
I was looking forward to going to NECSS in NYC to see great speakers and friends […]
I am extremely disappointed in the unprofessional retraction of invitation for Dr. Dawkins by the organizers of the conference. I don’t much care if you disagree with aspects of any speaker’s behavior or not, there is no excuse for impulsive, rude counteraction; I was unsatisfied with the statement issued by NECSS.
This small community of people passionate about science and critical thinking desperately needs good leadership, motivation, cooperation and organization in order to achieve positive influence in our society, I’m not seeing it exhibited in this situation. I do, however, feel confident that the invited participants will be fine representatives of a skeptical community, as they already have been. I am waiting to see how this plays out before I decide to attend or not. I expect a further explanation from the organizers and hopefully a resolution that moves us forward instead of continually against each other.
Others responded to the disinvite news with outrage or glee, dependent upon their prior views of Dawkins and how much they enjoy seeing their own comments on screens. But I just didn’t understand a whole lot about how it could have happened, so I asked for the reasoning from the people involved, and I observed the discourse of others. I learned a lot just by practicing some opinion restraint. Listening provides us with greater information than talking does.
Your milage may vary. I’m not dictating how anyone should do anything; I’m sharing what I found to be a useful practice for social situations, work disagreements, and family disputes. By keeping overreaction in check, you allow possible reception of pertinent information that may change your mind. At the very least, you reserve the option to intelligently and gracefully state or change your position and won’t look like a bigmouth ranting jerk.
In another practical example, my kid will do something that angers me. Yelling will just make her close down or probably yell back and we’ll get nothing resolved. So, I might say “I don’t appreciate that you didn’t call when you weren’t going to be home.” In some cases, I have added, “Care to explain?” It works – they attempt to explain. Maybe they feel compelled to answer when it’s in the form of a question. It doesn’t always go perfect but it also doesn’t sabotage the discussion at square one with a hostile attitude. It’s a pretty decent approach.
Such a calm approach to clarification and understanding of dilemmas doesn’t preclude you from disagreeing at any point. It doesn’t negate your reaction to someone’s response or behavior that you find objectionable. But it does avoid you losing friends and supporters in droves because you seem to be taking the position “I hate you and everything you stand for and this erases any good you’ve ever done in your life, so THERE.” That’s shallow, short-sighted, and sanctimonious. It also happens daily in my circle of acquaintances. Ugly stuff. I’m not going to do that because it’s self-defeating behavior in the adult world where we typically have to play nice with others, even if they are total jerks.
To conclude, if we value critical thinking and the truth, we should at least give clarification and understanding a try before reacting and stating our half-assed opinion to everyone everywhere. Unfortunately, what I saw revealed is a value of other things ahead of careful thinking. The end result is a lot frustrated folks attempting to make our way around social networks before throwing our hands up and logging off. There. Now I’m outraged at your outrage. Hope you’re satisfied.