Hopeful Blog Series: The Antidote by Randy Thomas
Now that I am back on the liberal’ish side of politics again (after a 25-year hiatus in the conservative world) I’ve noticed something. I’ve noticed how people view the “other side” from this perspective is, in some cases, shockingly similar to the “side” I recently left. Friends all across the political spectrum have asked, “How in the world can ‘they’ willfully choose ignorance, spread lies, and deny facts?” Seriously, friends from all points of view have asked that same, almost verbatim in many cases, questions over the years. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert in social dynamics, but the following is based on my limited experience in observing how this type of broad spectrum alienation happens.
A Poisonous Formula
During the religious-right implosion over the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, and the Exodus International civil war and its resulting relational fallout, this is a pattern I have seen happen repeatedly. It is a recipe for disaster:
- When it comes to responding to people who disagree or actively oppose their views, leaders assume the absolute worst about their opponents and surround themselves with individuals who have the same bias and negative assumptions to back them up.
- The leaders then analyze their negative assumptions by fundamentally equating these assumptions as facts. In the process they convince themselves that what they are doing is right and genuine.
- They draw conclusions based on these highly charged false facts and then teach their friends and supporters that their ongoing analysis and findings are supporting facts.
- Real-world facts not born out of the leader’s bias that support their negative assumptions are retained, others that challenge or disprove their assumptions are ignored.
- This consolidates power, equips the echo chamber to communicate efficiently and effectively (among their own), and then energizes their support base.
- It creates a complex multi-layered narrative, with a penchant for hyperbole, giving the authoritative air of thoughtful contemplation.
- Their supporters then spread these false facts exponentially in their spheres of influence. Because if so and so says so, it must be so. It gives them a false sense that they are echoing and empowering a much larger “truth.” <– Being part of a larger truth is a fundamental human need.
- The poison of a leader’s worst assumptions masquerading as fact then seeps into the communities, religious centers, and living rooms. Turns us into “us vs.them.”
- Supporters start using this poisonous formula to build their arguments and then we have a systemic problem.
All sides do this (there is always more than two sides to any issue.) But, all sides believe they are not nearly as bad as their opponents in this regard.
The Bitter Fruit: Stigmatizing Gossip
It is easy to boil this down, simply put, this is a cultural manifestation of gossip. Gossip can be very evil. Gossip bears false witness against each other and has the power to recontextualize “reality” to be something in our mind that is all fiction. Gossip turns friends and families into enemies. It will stigmatize/dehumanize those we disagree with and rob us of the opportunity to learn and grow with humility. It obscures facts with insult, pain, “us vs. them” irreconcilable differences that are based on limited perceptions and worst case assumptions. Gossip is a lazy imitation of analysis and “care.”
I believe the reason it is so powerful is that we were not created to be this way toward one another. As a Christ follower, He taught us to love and thoughtfully pray for our opponent, our “enemy,” not echo dehumanizing and hurtful messages. He didn’t teach us to repeat gossip and excuse leaders that manufacture the false narratives.
That antidote to stigmatizing gossip is humanizing relationship. While we all have an inner-jerk seeking expression from time to time (mine can be quite loud sometimes), most people I have met genuinely believe they have found the best life-giving “answer” for whatever the subject is. They have no interest in hurting or harming anyone else. They aren’t ignoring, denying, or hating. They are taking what they have been told and doing the best they can to find a way forward that is healthy for individuals and as a community. People are yearning to escape the vicious cycle described above.
I choose to hop out of the destructive cycle and see those I disagree with as people simply trying to find their way. Sure, I might think they are wrong, and they may be convinced I am wrong, but that does not change my relational approach. Regardless of the soul in front of me, they deserve respect, love, selflessness and friendship from me. My job is not to consider them in the context of disagreement and opposition in the worst of terms. My job is to resist gossip and lift up what I believe and researched to be true; to do so with humility knowing that I could be wrong on some of the details if not completely. All in the spirit of direct loving and humanizing relationships.
I have not and will not be perfect with this approach and perspective. But, the more I jump back into a loving and uplifting frame of reference, stigmatizing gossip has no power to poison my reality and relationships.
Being free is good,