We live in a time when it’s extremely easy to form and propagate opinions. Just 20-30 years ago, the speed at which we could form and dissipate opinions was an order of magnitude slower than what we have today. And by that I mean that now an opinion can be formed and spread to literally millions of people in seconds or minutes, whereas two, three decades ago this would have taken weeks, months or years (if it would have happen at all).
This speed has a few remarkable consequences, but one of the most important is that it makes everyone feel important. Voicing whatever your thoughts are about reality, to thousands of people at once, gives a sense of empowerment.
Even more, the way these opinions are disseminated, the medium that carries them (and I’m talking about the digital stack here: internet, and, on top of that, social media) makes it extremely easy to take sides, to choose which one of these opinions you “let in”, so to speak. Not only you can broadcast broadly, but you can also fine tune the reception, to a degree that fragments reality to the smallest possible unit: one person. You. By selecting with incredible accuracy only the opinions you like, you actually create a unique and very credible reality for yourself, one that is very difficult to share and harmonize with other realities.
I already wrote about how reality, as we knew it, is dead, and that we already live in a continuous competition of multiple realities, enforced by algorithms. I’m not gonna regurgitate those thoughts today, because there’s something more important going on.
The Tipping Point
And that is the “cancel culture”, a culture in which we reject people holding different opinions, based on the single fact that we don’t agree with the said opinions.
Block. Ignore. Collude only with persons that agree with you, be active only in groups that support your presumptions, talk only with people mirroring your thoughts. Everyone else, out. They don’t exist. Like, literally.
Not agreeing with someone’s opinion is natural. Rejecting the entire person because of that is not. It’s actually a very debilitating action, although in the beginning it feels liberating. The long term effects of such a behavior are deadly. And I mean it.
Because, you know, I also don’t agree with rain, sometimes. Or, depending on my state, I may not agree with too much cold, too much snow or too much heat. But that’t not a reason to stop experiencing them entirely. Or even enjoy them every once in a while.
The moment I stop what I do not like and start building hard, heavy insulating boundaries around my own convictions, well, from that moment on I am not only limiting my options, but I also stop generating meaning. Or, in simpler words, make sense of the world.
Because we can only generate meaning in difference, not in indifference.
Read that again, please.
We need some sort of perspective to exercise our choices, we need some sort of reference system. And we cannot have a reference system in a single dimension reality. As comfortable as that single dimension reality may feel, it is not alive. It doesn’t move. It doesn’t evolve. It stays in a single – presumably comfortable – place and it doesn’t accept any challenge whatsoever.
You know what else stays in a single, presumably comfortable place – perhaps one with a greener pasture? Rings a bell?
Yes, dead people stay there.
By insulating our carefully crafted realities from whatever we may feel “threatening”, or “triggering”, the “cancel culture” is spiraling us down to a lifeless existence, in a cushion of poisonous comfort.
That’s why learning to agree to disagree is a vital skill in this new context. And, again, I mean it when I use the word “vital”.
We may not agree with someone else’s opinions, but we can continue to keep that person in our multi-dimensional reality. We may learn how to understand the differences and manage them, instead of forcing everyone out of our hard, heavy insulating boundaries. We may try tolerating a bit of discomfort, knowing that this will create a bigger space for all of us. We may start listening more and talk less.
For the sake of our collective mental health.