Recently on Facebook I witnessed the demise of several relationships on a gentleman's wall post in regards to whether we have a flat earth or a round one. I guess it surprised me, as I thought this particular discussion was laid to rest some hundred years or more ago – I was proven wrong. The seemingly scientific figures, evidence and memes began to be posted at record-breaking speeds. “I'm sorry, I'm unfriending you. This is ridiculous.” was one comment.
The polarities of right and left, wrong and right, mine and yours, us vs. them are being expressed more than ever in an online manner and it seems to be creating a new world containing public online rants, keyboard warrior abuse and passionate, sometimes enraged and rude discourse between friends and family.
The Baby Boomers, Generation X and some of the early Milennials, are currently exercising this new technology regularly, excited at the prospect of an audience for their formerly private thoughts, opinions and leanings. They are flooding the world with memories of the days prior to internet, and flexing their political, religious, social and cultural knowledge.
The later Milennials and Generation Z (otherwise known as the Post-Milennials) may have a different story to express. Only time will tell on this one, but having discussed a few things with some in these younger generations, they seem to be keen for the fighting to stop and perhaps sitting back waiting for their turn in the world. I hold hope that they won't lay in the collateral damage of a World War III. I also hold hope that the next generation will have some brilliant and effective ideas for positive change and for good.
Where are your manners?
There is a very old saying about dinner time conversation: 'Never speak about religion or politics.'
In the 1860's book The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness by Florence Hartley, the introduction contains this statement: “True Christian politeness will always be the result of an unselfish regard for the feelings of others, and though you may err in the ceremonious points of etiquette, you will never be impolite.”
The chasm in between polarities
Not uncommonly known, social media has become a platform to express and support our views and opinions on...well... everything. It has become excellent for connecting with family and friends and people of like mind, but devastating in widening the chasm of 'US VS. THEM'.
My curiosity has piqued and my heart drops watching and reading the severity and aggression in the responses of those that do not agree with another. I see very rare conversations containing respect and an inquisitive heart on another's stance. Light-hearted jabs are painfully received. Why? Because it is tied up within so much of who we are, where we have come from and what we believe to be true – through our lenses.
True politeness is the expression of a kind heart. Rudeness tends to repel people, whereas courtesy and kindness attracts. Why, as reasonable and rational people, is it so hard to change our position when met with intelligent counterarguments? It is our brains, our upbringing, our morals and our sacred untouchable objects (beliefs or principles) that we like to circle around protectively with our gangs; our like minded compadres. We are sometimes quite stuck in a defensive mode, driven by fear.
Unselfish and thoughtful conversations
In her introduction, Florence Hartley writes, “....I would establish but one great general rule in conversation, which is this—that people should not talk to please themselves, but those who hear them." and “Never, when advancing an opinion, assert positively that a thing "is so," but give your opinion as an opinion. Say, "I think this is so," or "these are my views".”
There is so much wisdom in politeness. Eloquence and etiquette has a beautiful place in the world – perhaps there is a way they can be restored? They tend to keep relationships in tact and we are more inclined to avoid disappearance into the primal part of our brain, in a conversation of selfish and righteous arrogance. When suiting up for a conversation, let us engage with polite, eloquent etiquette (I shall give it the abbreviation P.E.E)
Assistant Professor of political behaviour, Thomas J. Leeper PhD gives us these five points of advice (Paraphrased. See full article here) :
1. Remember that other peoples’ opinions are not a referendum on your opinions
People come to their political opinions through a variety of processes – exposure to information in the mass media, learned views from parents and other close connections and life experiences.
2. People who disagree often think about the same issue differently
When multiple frames of reference are available, people do more than disagree on policy, they disagree on what is at stake in an issue. Consequently, conversations about the issue will involve opponents talking past each other. Talking about an issue in terms of one frame with someone who doesn’t conceptualize the issue in those terms isn’t likely to be productive for anyone involved.
3. Thinking you’re being rational can often be a sign that you’re actually biased
When we talk to others, we tend to be motivated to be “accurate.” We want to be competent, appear well-informed, and ultimately hold opinions that are “right.” But, we are always also fundamentally driven to defend our prior opinions.
4. We believe facts that support our opinions and disbelieve everything else
Perhaps the greatest cognitive failure for modern citizens is the inability to divorce our attachment to our opinions from our evaluations of new information and arguments. If we are reasonably committed to our views, new information that might change those views is resisted and misinterpreted.
5. Sometimes, you’ll never be able to change someone’s opinion
Though it remains an emerging area of social research, some of our opinions have a relatively static basis in our physiology, genetics, and evolved condition.
I write this article to help myself, as much as I hope this will help many discussing, sharing and debating on Facebook. Let us apply the P.E.E Theory! May we improve in our Polite, Eloquent Etiquette when engaging in online and face-to-face discussion. Let us change the story of us vs them moreso to a story of the goodness of humanity. Sure, good things may eventually come from some debates and fights – but at what cost?
Belinda has always enjoyed expressing herself. Her mediums have included dance, painting, writing, text messages and performing for local theatre companies. In 2010 she was invited to write comment articles for Press Service International which culminated in her winning the 'Basil Seller's Australian Young Writer of the Year' in 2015. Her writing is now published at cinemafaith.com, patheos.com and periecho.com. Belinda lives on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.
See previous articles by Belinda Croft