Why Do People Suck And What Can We Do About It
I saw a meme the other day that made me laugh, but also made me think a little deeper. Yes, that does happen sometimes. The meme is a quote from April Ludgate, a character on the TV show Parks and Recreation. She wears her “typical” facial expression and the accompanying text reads “I wasn’t listening but I strongly disagree.” I’ll bet that resonates with many people – me included – particularly if it’s one of our pet issues we “know we’re right” about.
I didn’t give this post its title because everyone really sucks. In fact I think most people don’t suck, but if you spend much time on social media or watching opinion shows, it seems like we really can’t stand each other. All the shouting and tweeting and posting are exhausting. Religion and politics are hot-button topics that sow division, but throw in some discrimination, racism and lack of understanding, and you’ve hit some turbulence that most rides at Six Flags Over Wherever wish they had. And most often the drivers of this turmoil have been implanted in us by our life experiences and upbringings. Despite knowing this, it still seems like some people … well, suck. Or do they? Maybe we decided they’re dreadful because they don’t think like we do.
Ok sure, there are people that really do suck. They don’t seem to be good humans at their core. These are not the folks I want to spend time talking or writing about. It’s everyone else I want to consider. I’m guessing most people don’t wake up in the morning and think “Ok, today I really want to be awful to everyone around me and try to make the world a more miserable place.” Social media makes me wonder sometimes, but I choose to take the high road on this one. If that makes me naïve, so be it, because it’s rooted in hope.
Recalling April’s meme I found there is actually some science behind it. Did you know there is a thing in the world of psychology called belief superiority? Yep, it’s exactly what it sounds like and is more present in people with extreme views in either direction – socially, spiritually or politically. They not only believe their opinion is correct; it is more correct than everyone else, to the point that all other opinions are wrong. It can also keep them from considering the other “side” of an issue or reexamining their own opinion.
Speaking of sides, I can’t be the only one who is sick of them. I’m particularly nauseated with what feels like only two sides in most cases – right or left, black or white, etc. When I hear someone say the answer to a really complex issue with lots of moving parts is simply “black or white – there is no gray”, I gotta call BS. All that tells me is they’ve most likely picked one side of a story that lines up really well with their life experience with no regard for anyone else’s – AND they typically consume media from outlets that reinforce or amplify the same thought they already had. In his book Ending Our Uncivil War: A Path to Political Recovery & Spiritual Renewal, my friend Jim Brown references a bumper sticker he saw that sparked his writing – “Don’t believe everything you think”. That is fantastic and I wish I’d thought of it.
I’m sure there are others like me who have become weary with a society that seems too quick to draw a line in the sand over everything – and then tells us to choose a side (or that we are wrong for not choosing a side). Well I may not want to choose either one of those – particularly if someone else decides what my choices are. What if I see merit in parts of both sides? What if I think both sides are dumb and there has to be a better way?
I know there are many people who feel like I do, but this thinking seems to have an uphill climb right now. Extremists dominate headlines and spark outrage and contempt on social media, ramping things up to dangerous levels behind the safety of a keyboard or smart phone. Moderation is drowned out by the fringes. Compromise has become a bad word now, presumably because you can’t have strong convictions if you seek common ground with those holding differing views. More BS. We need more people with solid principles, but still willing to break bread with those just as firmly rooted in opposing beliefs.
For the record, I don’t consider this a political blog post. If it has that bent it’s because we’ve decided to look at humanity through that lens. Somehow every issue/problem and belief/solution in the world is pushed to one side of that sandy demarcation. Then we start looking at those on the other side differently. Once we think they’ve gone to the dark (other) side, there is a steady decline to “man, they really suck.”
So, you ask, what are we supposed to do about it? Can we all just hug it out? Probably not. But if we agree there is a problem with all this side-taking, that’s a start. When we begin to take an honest look at things from a different viewpoint than our own, we lessen the chance of demonizing the other person because of differing beliefs.
What happened to empathy? What happened to compassion? What happened to Shia LaBeouf? At what point did so many people stop experiencing things outside the bubble of like-mindedness they created and nurtured? Is it a matter of comfort? Ignorance? Fear? And just because we can explain some of this doesn’t make it right or easy to change. Be careful and don’t mistake your bubble for some sense of safety either. It can often be an echo chamber that narrows the mind and actually makes the world more unsafe. Separation can lead to detachment and soon we have no connection with anyone that’s not similar to us. It’s hard to get to know and understand people that are never part of your life.
To make progress on this we’re going to have to do the hard work of engaging and loving those we disagree with on topics we hold near our hearts. We can’t drown in the cesspool of misinformation and hate on social media. No more ramping things up responding to conspiracy theory posts. Unfollow those filled with hate and true suckiness (yes it’s in the urban dictionary). Otherwise, decide if social media is really the best place to debate with those you disagree with. Add more love and goodness to your platform of choice. What we fill our minds with has to affect how we view the world and others.
I find when I focus more on others and less on myself; the world gets a little better. What if we all try to do that more? Being nice and compassionate to others has a tendency to be contagious when it’s repeated day after day. And the more we see others doing good things – especially if they look/think/act differently than us – the harder it is to put “those people” in the box we built for them. Plus, it generally restores our faith that everyone doesn’t suck. Then we start to feel better and more hopeful the world isn’t what it seems like on (fill in your TV opinion show.)
Every day we wake up with a choice on how we will engage with the world and others. There is a choice. We get to choose. Meaning there is more than one way to do it. Will we hunker down on our side and never budge or will we acknowledge other perspectives and the varied life experiences that helped form them? Acknowledging doesn’t mean we agree. It means we heed the words of Atticus Finch to his daughter Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird: “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Harper Lee for the win.