There is an African proverb that says, “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” It doesn’t matter whether the lion or the hunter was victorious, the lion’s point of view forever remains unknown.
It’s a lesson that bears learning as many times as it takes. We are all guilty of taking something — a story, a rumor, a media report — at face value without questioning it. Is the source credible? Have all sides had a chance to comment or weigh in? Is there another side of the story to be considered?
Especially in today’s world of faceless social media, it’s so easy to jump to a conclusion and condemn a person, a candidate, a cause online without getting all the pertinent information. And when emotions run high, it’s so easy to lose perspective and not see all sides. Politics and personal relationships suffer as a result of being played out on social media.
So what are we to do? For some, the answer is so obvious as to make the rest of us look like blithering simpletons. They know they are right. Everyone else is wrong. There is no other side to the story. Their friend/candidate/issue has the only point of view worth hearing; all others are not worthy of consideration. Belittling and name-calling preclude any chance of coming to a mutually beneficial outcome. The other side doesn’t matter — in fact, they are the enemy and worthy of whatever bad happens to them. No matter the expense. And, almost always, everyone loses.
The other approach involves perspective — the ability to see the issue from more than the information provided by one side. There are some techniques that can help us when we get into these situations. First is to remain at least somewhat emotionally detached. When emotions overtake us, it becomes difficult to come out of our corners to find middle ground.
Second, try and find all the facts. Hearing just a few facts can provoke one on a course of action that, in hindsight, turns out to be ill-advised. Discovering missing pieces of information can illuminate another’s point of view and result in more appropriate action.
Third, try not to act immediately. Time and perspective can prevent going off half-cocked.
Fourth, try and be open and receptive to the other’s point of view. If the hoped-for outcome is mutually beneficial, then stepping outside one’s self is necessary to get there. Try and understand where the other person is coming from. And have the maturity to understand that this might mean not getting 100% of everything you want.
There is even a biblical reference to this: Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.” And former President Jimmy Carter said, “Unless both sides win, no agreement can be permanent.”
This, of course, presumes that both sides want to come to a mutually beneficial outcome. In some of the personal and political discussions on social media, however, it is apparent that destroying the other side is the only acceptable outcome. The eventual results are obvious in the generational unrest and loathing in the Middle East … the My-Jesus-is Better-Than-Your-Jesus conflict in Northern Ireland … the widening divide between Democrats and Republicans in the United States … and spiteful snarky social media posts just about everywhere.
I’ll leave you with one more nugget of wisdom, from Stephen Hawking: “A few years ago, the city council of Monza, Italy, barred pet owners from keeping goldfish in curved bowls … saying that it is cruel to keep a fish in a bowl with curved sides because, gazing out, the fish would have a distorted view of reality. But how do we know we have the true, undistorted picture of reality?” How indeed!
Catch John Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, Fridays at the Lighthouse Grill, Saturdays at the Key Colony Inn, and Mondays at the Sunset Grille. www.johnbartus.com