I was looking on Facebook today and noticed that a good friend of mine, Trampas Whiteman, has posted the following:
Have you ever thought about unfriending someone because something they like (that you don’t like) shows up in your news feed over and over?
As I read this, I notice that my facebook page on the right hand side shows ads for Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and Mia Love (a Utah Republican candidate for Congress), in praise of Utah and for Mormons. Now, I favor Romney in the upcoming election but I’m troubled by the fact that Facebook KNOWS that bias and is now only showing me Romney/Republican ads. And as I am already a Mormon and live in Utah, those ads are hardly going to be life-changing for me. Facebook wants to give me things I like and in the process has reduced national discourse to a narcissistic mirror showing me back only what I want to see.
That said we also live in an age of unweighted opinion. Facebook, too, teaches us that unfortunate fact. ABC’s slogan for this year’s election is ‘Your Voice; your Vote.’ The problem isn’t that everyone is supposed to speak out … the problem is when we’re all talking at once, who is listening? Talking is about ourselves. Listening involves other people.
While differences in opinion are the foundation of finding better and newer ideas, not all opinions are created equal. Turn on the television these days (if you dare) and you’ll see a constant parade of opinions from ‘experts’ whose job is to give you their opinion. In a classic ‘you can’t see the forest for the trees’ reality, I found it difficult to actually watch both the Republican and Democratic conventions this year because of all the ‘talking heads’ of commentators who insisted on placing themselves between me and the conventions taking place behind them. I have grown weary and leery of ‘commentators’ taking a candidate’s ten-minute speech, clipping a fifteen to twenty second ‘sound bite’ from that speech and then spending ten minutes telling me what that twenty seconds meant. I’d be so much happier if they would just get out of the way, let me hear the speech and be smart enough to judge for myself what it means.
So what do we most naturally want? We want to be told we are OK. We want to be told we are beautiful. We want to be told that we are good. We want to be told that we are right. We also, unfortunately, like it when we are told that those who disagree with us are wrong, bad or even just plain evil.
So we congregate into political parties or behind candidates who reflect — literally — who we believe ourselves to be. We look into the mirror altar of television and carefully select which news channel we worship based on which one is crafted most closely in our own image. Discourse is reduced to team jerseys, slogans and trash talk as though the fate of our nation were the Superbowl where our self worth is determined by whether our team wins.
I am not concerned with what happens on November 6th. My concern is what happens on November 7th, 8th, 9th…
Beyond the mirror, we can shrug of the chains of our own narcissism. On the other side of shallow reflection we can give up the idea of partisanship and divisiveness. We can realize that beyond the mirror there is a place where being ‘right’ is less important than ‘making better’.
Then perhaps the place to start for us all is by looking in the mirror.
And I hope no one ‘unfriends’ me for saying so.