My Facebook feed went blue, white, and red in a hurry after the terrible events in Paris this past weekend. Sadly, my feed also contained some terrible comments from my “friends”. How did we get here? Why are some usually kind and thoughtful people so easily tipped into hate and vitriol? And how can people I love so dearly be so diametrically opposed on such important issues?
If you want to create a cohesive group of people – be it a sports team, a political party, or a recovery support group – the quickest way to do that is based on shared emotion. It is awfully hard to get a group of people to feel true joy at the same time for any length of time, but anger and fear are quite effective. Joy and hope are fleeting. Fear and anger have claws.
We instinctively crave protection. Joy and hope do the exact opposite. They leave us wide open — to deep goodness and love, but also to nasty stuff. On this broken planet, they come and go in a hurry. Anger and fear make the perfect defense. Fear gives us legs to run so we can hide behind our labyrinth of painstakingly erected walls. And if that’s not distance enough, throw out enough anger, and everyone will run for the hills.
Fueled by instant social media frenzy and news media fighting for our emotions, we get scared along with our “friends”, feeding off each other. And we start digging trenches to protect our flanks. We dig and we dig and we hunker down as one. This act of digging trenches together is solidifying and comforting — we regain a feeling of control. We keep digging because we reinforce each other’s fears the deeper we go.
Once we are below the surface, another interesting thing happens. We can no longer see. Our perspective is suddenly narrowed to the trench we just dug. We are, quite literally, tunnel-visioned. We are in a brand new fort with our pseudo-safe-friends and a synergetic inner terror simmers between us, creating a new filter that everything falls through.
And wouldn’t you know, there is a different kind of group, with a different background and a different set of fears that dug their own trench about a mile away. And both groups are lobbing shells and setting up their snipers.
Jim Rohn, who I take it is a really smart business guy said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Just stop and think about that. Put down your shovel and take a slow look around you. How does your crew match up with your true life mission? If you could just have a moment to fly above your dank, dark trench and get a bird’s eye view – is this angry, frightened group congruent with your deeper parts?
If you want to ensure your demise in politics, on social media, even in your church, just walk out in the middle. You are going down. Rational debate? Willingness to listen to the other side? Ask too many questions? Either the enemy will take you out, or you are going to be the “accidental” victim of friendly fire.
The middle ground is no-man’s land, strewn with human landmines. This is why the Democrats are running left and the Republicans are running right. This, coupled with the lack of education – at least thoughtful education – of the general public (show me a Democrat that is watching Fox News or a Republican that is listening to NPR on a regular basis), gives little room for reason or compromise.
I wish I had a unifying solution for immigration, refugees, education in inner cities, racism, abortion, and the like, because the rhetoric from both sides of the isle turns my stomach inside out. Writing this also serves as a reminder to me that those spewing the hate are mostly only scared and blind. As upsetting as their behavior might be, I have no right to judge because I have a tendency to dig in myself.
My hope is that it might finally be bad enough that a bunch of us tunnel in from the side and at least dig our own trench in the middle. Maybe then we can be heard before we are destroyed.
Now – calling those that might want to pursue care-ful compassion, or prudent progressiveness – I’m digging in the middle, but not too deep. Send up a flare and I’ll do my best to find you.