• Eric Bricker, LMHC

The Pathology of Politics on Social Media

Current political outrage on social media is at times nauseating, oddly fascinating and impossible to ignore somewhat like a monkey shit fight at the zoo. As soon as you log on, you will get a quick and aggressive reminder that we are a deeply divided society. When did disagreement become an act of war? There are a lot of people out there who express their opinions appropriately without the need to attack others. However, say the wrong thing at any moment and you can be digitally cannibalized by someone you haven’t spoken to since sixth grade shop class.

While I admire the commitment and dedication, I find myself questioning the efficacy of the tactic. What exactly is the goal here? Presumably, we’re trying to convince other people that our point of view is the correct one. So, let me ask you a question. Have you ever actually seen anyone switch ideologies after being verbally abused? Have you ever changed your mind when someone with an opposing opinion calls you an idiot? I’m just curious because I don’t think I’ve ever seen it happen.

In his bestselling self-help book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey offers this thought for us to consider; “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Perhaps if our dissenting opinions were approached with greater curiosity, we could be more impactful in getting the other side to listen. We might even make it attractive for new voices to enter into the discussion. People in this country are already struggling to combat the impact of isolation and uncertainty that has been imposed upon us as a result of the pandemic. Do we really need to compound that by trying to make each other look and feel like morons?

In November, when the election is over, one side is going to have to lose. No matter what happens, a lot of people are going to have a really hard time with the outcome. Some of them will likely double down on outrage. In this case the divide will deepen. The election may not signal the end of hostilities as many of us are hoping. In fact, November could just as easily usher in an escalation. The pathway back to unity will be lit by those who possess the capacity for self-restraint and tolerance. The majority of people that I know on the left and right are decent people, and it is decency that now matters the most.

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