Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hair Dryers, Social Media and Corrosive Conversation Creep

My daughters were fighting over a hair dryer.

One argued, “I had it in my hand first.”

The other said, “But you just got out of the shower and I have been out for 15 minutes, so I need to go first.”

The first one responded, “That’s not my problem. You should have used it while I was in the shower.”

This went on for a while. Finally I heard them call out in unison. “Daaaaaad!”

My response? “You girls work it out.”

Forty-five minutes later, I heard the shower start up again. After five minutes, the hair dryer. After an hour and fifteen minutes, the girls came downstairs. Each girl’s hair had dried while they argued, so they had to rewash their hair and then dry it again.

They both knew that with a little cooperation, they could have been done an hour ago. But something happened. The goal of drying their hair had been derailed, and a new goal of defeating the other had taken its place.

This happens in the real world all the time. We are still seeing it played out in the news and on social media. We have a new president-elect and a deeply divided country.

If you ask anyone what they want for our nation, the answer you are likely to get from both Democrats, Republicans and everything in between is for our country to be at peace, financially healthy, ample employment, good schools, no armed conflict, reduced crime, the rights and worth of all persons respected and honored, affordable housing, high quality medical care at an affordable price – a chicken in every pot kind of stuff.

But we differ in how we want to achieve this. So we argue. That’s fine. Healthy conflict is a

very good thing. The unhealthy kind however, is much more prominent.

Every day in the media – corporate and social – this unhealthy conflict is played out. Name-calling. Ad-hominem attacks. Assuming motives and intent of the other in the most self-serving way possible. Inflating the significance and moral goodness of our arguments while associating the other side with the worst extremes we can find. We are fighting over who gets control of the hair dryer.

We could have our problems solved by now, but solving the problem is no longer the goal. Winning. Control. Power. Defeating and crushing the enemy. These are our goals now. And if they are, then any tactic is acceptable. No grace need be given. No attempt to listen and understand required. Civility is weakness and compromise. Be as sarcastic, snarky, biting and crude as you like. Misrepresent or lie about the enemy if you need to, or even if you don't need to but just want a cathartic outlet for your rage. Who cares about those people anyway?!

And we shout – a lot. Social media is the worst. I don’t think I even need to explain that to anyone on it. But the sad thing is, social media is normalizing these corrosive conversations, and they are beginning to creep into the world of non-virtual reality. In stores and on the streets, in office buildings and in the stands at the high school stadium, this toxic kind of combative, non-listening, no-empathy, win at all cost kind of dysfunctional conflict is harming families, businesses, schools, and friendships.

So my question to those of us who have engaged in these kinds of conversations is this: What do you really want? I need to ask myself. What do I really want?

Do I want a nation that functions in a healthy way with healthy conflict where we outdo one another is showing honor, or do I want to fight and write you off as a loser who couldn’t think his way out of a paper bag while you do the same to me?

For my country. For my family. For my community. For my future. What do I really want?

What do you really want?

Just a question.

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