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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Exemplars

If you spend any time at all on social media—and I confess I do, you have undoubtedly seen your fair share of posts displaying some outrageous headline, screen shot, or post as an example of all that is wrong with—insert your word of choice here—world, country, the right, the left, Republicans, Democrats, this generation and so on ad nauseum.

 

Some, certainly not all of this rot is made up—disinformation created to perpetuate hostility and division.  Some is created by individuals seeking to justify their personal brand of bigotry, prejudice, political ideology and pathology.  But some of it is absolutely what you think—examples of people or views that are extreme, possibly upsetting, and given our reaction, in stark contrast to our own values or views.

 

Humans are going to disagree about a raft of things—all manner of issues and values and it is inevitable that at the polar extremes we can find such exemplars.  Things go off the rails when any of us presume that these examples represent the overwhelming majority of people—of any ethnic, political or religious persuasion.  If you watch or read any of the media which cater to the ideologues—their stock in trade is outrage.  It doesn’t matter which way you might lean—there is a good chance you’ll get an email, see a post, view or hear a story designed to shock you, to incite fear and anger at the sad state of affairs we are in and not so subtly suggest it is widespread—a clear and imminent danger to everything we hold dear.

 

Now I want to be crystal clear—there are things in our world today about which we should be deeply concerned, especially those which are violent, repressive, and fueled by the basest of human behaviors and instincts.  That is not what I am talking about. An equal danger lies in our willing acceptance that this daily diet of anger and fear inducing stories is in any way representative of what is really the state of things. If we buy into these provocations, we run the risk of creating the divisions and repression that fuels even more disunion in an endlessly degenerative cycle. 


In reality, most of us, most of the time are just trying to live our lives, as peacefully as possible, and remain true to some basic sets of values we were taught and embrace out of personal morality, religious conviction or some other source. We must not assume that the shocking examples are the norm and not the exception. They are never a legitimate ground for hating our fellow humans regardless of their political, philosophic or religious stripe.  The only reason these examples succeed is because we have a narrow field of vision. We know next to nothing about others—that is, those not like us—who do not live in our community, or think like we think, eat the same foods, go to the same schools, churches, synagogues or mosques.

 

Imagine if our only knowledge of some distant land and its people was based exclusively on some photos from a copy of National Geographic circa 1950.  That is how many media sources and social media in particular portray people—snapshots.  What we actually know about those people is nil—only what we’ve been shown or told and that is carefully edited so that we are seeing a staged bit or only a single snapshot without any understanding of the entirety that surrounds it.  Should we go and spend some time among these peoples we would come to find that the snapshots aren’t accurate, meaningful, realistic or helpful to our understanding.  Normalcy is boring—even if it differs from our own normalcy.  So those distant people are not shown doing things or thinking things we might relate to—they are shown in settings and situations that are as different from our own as possible.

 

That is how things get so distorted.  Yes, there are disconnects in how we see each other and see the world.  But first and foremost we need to see each other as humans, flawed, fearful, angry at the obstacles and wrongs we have experienced and certainly different from one another in some ways but fundamentally the same.  The outliers, those at the extremes exist for sure—but we are in no danger of becoming them nor at imminent risk of embracing their extremism unless we allow those who would manipulate us for their own gain to set us at each other’s throats. We need to remember that those who are so ardently telling us the world is going to hell in a handbasket have everything to gain and nothing to lose.  They are not the exemplars we should embrace, but the self-serving demagogues we should avoid.

 

 

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