Aiming for Less Than 180 Degrees

These days we all seem to see things polarized. It’s right or it’s wrong. If it’s wrong, then it’s them. If it’s right then it’s us. Very often – oh so often – it’s about headlines and politics. It can be incredibly difficult to separate an issue from how we interpret it. The perspectives are so polarizing that we not only view something as defining who we are, but of what the other side is as well. It can be so instinctual that frequently we don’t give much of a chance to think it through. Deep down we may know that our end positions are going to be different but we don’t realize that somebody else who has another view is human as well. It’s also easy to slip into the trap of thinking that somebody else’s view is an opposing one rather than simply different. Let me give an example.

Visualizing how the House of Representatives votes. From Mauro Martino.
Visualizing how the House of Representatives votes. From Mauro Martino.
A friend posted the following video and it resulted in a wildly diverging discussument (a made-up word – it was a heated conversation). Have a look at the video and think about what you observe.
What did you see? Was it:
A – A loving girl/sister helping out a friend/brother.
B – A girl who’s learning how to serve the men in her life and lacks an identity of her own.
C – Some kids in a foreign country who are fortunate enough to have food to eat.
D – Something else entirely

What happened was that some people saw A and made comments saying how beautiful and giving it was. Some people saw B and thought it was a terrible example of girls learning to be subservient at an early age. Somebody saw C but was more upset with people who saw B. And people who saw A accused people who saw B of being negative. Think about your own reaction. Was it one of the ones I listed? What were your feelings about the another point of view? Can you see yourself getting in a discussument over it.

Let’s keep in mind that there is no back story here. We’ve got no idea who these children are or where they live. We don’t know if the boy is hurt or tired. We don’t know what the adults in their lives have taught them. We don’t really know if there are consistent adults in their lives or if they even know each other at all. What we’re doing is overlaying our own stories on top of this video which doesn’t have a talk track or overt location or culture. I could make an argument that what we see says more about ourselves than the kids in the video.

It can be very easy to get drawn into this picture. Group B sees the worst in the situation. Group A is painting a rosy picture on something they wouldn’t tolerate here. Group C is taking a high road but seems to ignore how much food is in the picture or what the kids are actually doing (I wasn’t in C). All of these viewpoints can be positive or negative. Group A can find solid relationships in bad situations. Group B can see the best in the girl’s potential which will go unrealized. Group C is glad they can see a future at all.

But here’s the thing. Every one of these sets of people could be overlooking an angle. They could be seeing something positive which is or isn’t there. They could have a blind spot which means they completely miss a key aspect. Or they could outright ignore something in order to make their point. Life isn’t clean and our ability to react to it isn’t either. I really believe that everyone I discussed this with wants what’s best for the children. Our view of “what’s best” may not match and our journey to an idea of “what’s best” is unique to us.

That is the fundamental question we need to sit back on and reflect upon this Thanksgiving. What’s our version of “what’s best” for our country’s future. If you look back up at that red and blue voting cloud, it’s obvious that we were more aligned in the past. It’s far easier to disagree about the roads we take when we know they go to the same place. Now… I’m not sure if they all do. So make it a goal this week: Skip past the clickbait headline and don’t frame your conversations based on a single incident. Don’t dig in and refuse to budge. Consider what’s a feeling and what’s a fact. Talk about the country in the future and where we’re going. Try to arrive at that human point of understanding. That’s a story we can all tell.

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