The online world has been heating up for quite some time now. It seems we are becoming more and more polarised in belief and opinion, in the political, social and religious frameworks arenas. It is all too easy for discussion to turn to argument to turn to outright personal attack. We single out people like Donald Trump, Jordan Peterson and "social justice warriors" (for example) and call them all manner of names, simplifying their world views into simple and concise labels, which makes it easy to then castigate the entirety of who they are.
Issues and ideologies are now often reduced to and identified by names of well-known people within public discourse. Anyone who subscribes to even just a part of a particular view is then lumped into the same, easily denigrated categories and written off wholesale, with no consideration for nuance or personal circumstances that would make them considerably more relatable to us. We have forgotten that we have more in common than difference, regardless of political, religious or social affiliations.
A push to the outer
The polarisation has worsened and the divisions have deepened. Moderates are treated disdainfully by those at the increasing extremities of the spectrum if social media is anything to go by. Moderate views are seen as being left of the right or right of the left, and we are being encouraged and even coerced more and more to pick sides, rather than seek the middle ground that is mutually beneficial. The bell curve of political and religious ideology seems to be inverting at an alarming rate as people are pushed from the middle ground out to the extremities.
"The peculiar thing is that intelligent leaders on both sides must be able to see that their dogmatism is strengthening not only their own side but also the opposite side. If this is so, one can only conclude that there are people in the Christian *(and secular/political/religious) community who have a vested interest in division. Their actions do not in the end further the cause, nor their own particular brand of it. These actions and attitudes serve only to increase the following of extremist leaders and give them more power in their own camp." - Ray Galvin, Coping with Moral Issues (*additional comment mine)
Our connections with those close to us are fragmenting and we are losing trust in those we’ve known all our lives because of snippets they have shared online. The attacks have led us to defending particular views more vehemently, until they come to define us in the perceptions of others and even in our own. We no longer feel comfortable at family gatherings, where in-laws, aunts and uncles, or even our own brothers and sisters have a need to loudly defend a particular ideology, even before any counter position is raised.
If we had quiet conversations with our friends and family, they would most likely agree that these issues are not the major defining aspect of their lives, and yet because the rejection of any of these ideologies has grown so strong on both sides of the political and religious spectrums, the need to defend them has lifted to match it.
Fear and worth
We are driven by a fear of being overrun by opposing views and ideologies and a fear of missing out - on employment, on services, on peace or even on divine favour, of losing control of society as we know it; a fear, ultimately, of an inadequacy within ourselves, that our own worth will not be acknowledged by others unless we fight for it.
So how do we truly fight back and restore some kind of normalcy and dare I say it, sanity, to not only our public discourse but to our personal relationships as well? How do we step away from the polarisation so prevalent today and restore peace to the world? Can we move away from attacking loved ones and strangers while continuing to fight for justice as we see fit?
We are all driven by a fear deep down, that we are not good enough in some way. Finding some kind of inner peace within, about who we are that is not determined by the views of others, that is not dependant on the approval of others is one of the missing links in our global discourse. We have been hiding our own personal failures and inadequacies behind a judgmental approach towards others. Simply put, we put others down to feel better about ourselves, in conversation and in our own thought patterns, all the while suppressing and hiding from our own shame and pain. We raise ourselves up above others in order to feel a superficial sense of control and order over our lives.
To let go of fear - fear of ourselves, fear of the world, fear of the other - and truly embrace the unknown of getting to know a stranger, a neighbour or even a family member and what motivates their own beliefs without any fear of its implications, doesn’t validate their ideologies or identity, it validates their God-breathed humanity. But to do so requires an inner peace, free of all fear.
Take the time to get to know the people you interact with, their loves, their struggles, their fears. See them lift as they begin to feel known and accepted and even validated as a person of worth to humanity. See them step toward the middle ground, following the example you have laid out before them. Let’s have a better conversation, one that looks to encourage, not disparage; a conversation that accepts and validates our commonality, our intrinsic value and our shared struggle against hardship rather than one that relies on the divisive rhetoric that is currently being thrown our way. A conversation not borne out a need to hide our own inadequacies and sin, but embraces all of humanity for the deeper beauty hidden within.
Russell Croft has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Russell Croft