In this week’s spotlight I would once again like to visit the idea of civility in our society. My lifetime has never seen a divide in America as deep as it is today. People no longer seem to listen to one another. Instead they meet opposing views as though they were threatened with a violent confrontation. I sometimes think of this inability to hear another out as a form of social narcissism, in that everyone has their own opinions, beliefs, and so-called “truths,” and they’re exclusive to all else. Indeed, folks can be so invested in their private perspective as to be affronted by anyone who might disagree in the slightest with them.
Narcissism is defined as “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration.” Think about just how selfish it is to ignore the views of others, to cut people off mid sentence, or to jump down someone’s throat as soon as they say something you disagree with.
Steven Pinker, in his book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, has this to say about human conflicts:
It has been given to express all the principal constants of conflict in the condition of man. These constants are fivefold: the confrontation of men and of women; of age and of youth; of society and of the individual; of the living and the dead; of men and of god(s). The conflicts which come of these five orders of confrontation are not negotiable. Men and women, old and young, the individual and the community or state, the quick and the dead, mortals and immortals, define themselves in the conflictual process of defining each other.
I would like to suggest that there appears to be yet another basic conflict, and that is one of ideas. It is not between men and women, young and old, society and the individual, the living and the dead, or even the gods. It is a conflict between rational and ignorant civility (‘ignorant civility’ is certainly an oxymoron). In fact, just this past week I overheard a politically passionate young man defend calling out Trump supporters in public places, calling them out in front of their families and everyone else, since they were obviously Nazis, and Nazis deserve to be identified and humiliated even if it leads to violent actions like spitting.
Research has demonstrated that the best way to communicate with another person begins by hearing them out—fleshing out their thoughts and ideas. Only when you understand another’s thinking do you stand a chance at communicating with them, let alone presenting an alternative to their thinking. If you want to change the hearts and minds of others, you must first truly listen—not shout, cajole and condemn. I ask, “What’s the harm in listening to another’s perspective?”
It seems to me that the purpose of communication is communicating—not shouting, name calling, or some other form of abusive ignorance. If you wish to shout, go to a ball game and yell your heart out in support of your favorite team. If you wish to communicate, to understand another—then begin by listening.
As I view many of the posts on social networking platforms, the polemical remarks on both sides of arguments never cease to disturb me. I urge anyone who participates in vitriolic rants to pause and think about trying to communicate, instead of launching their own invective rants.
Those are my thoughts—I’d love to hear yours.