Living in the 21st century is exhausting.
Sure, if we’re hungry many of us can just pop into our kitchens, open our electrically powered refrigerators, and pull out a bit of ham, a bit of cheese, and then make a sandwich with bread from the pantry. No hunting or complicated salting or cooking process there.
We have machines that allow us to order groceries from the shop without setting a foot outside our home, and it’s possible to build a successful career spending most of your day in bed with a computer.
Still, it’s tiring. Whenever you talk to people, you either agree completely with what they say, or you’re sworn enemies. You go online and everything is a battlefield. You see a video on youtube and disagree with something the person said, so you leave a comment. Next thing you know, people are mocking you, insulting you, typing vile words at you. It’s horrifying.
You live in this day and age, you know what I’m talking about. An issue comes up; abortion, LGBT issues, immigration… you name it. No matter what the topic of conversation is, though, once you mention it, everyone turns out to have an opinion about it. Not just any opinion, but an angry, definite opinion. A lot of the time, a bit of questioning shows that people aren’t even that educated about the subject, but still feel like it’s necessary to “pick a side.” Then once you choose, it’s like oil and water. You’ve chosen an opinion, and can’t ever agree with someone who disagrees in any way. No ideas can mix and there’s no growth.
I’m probably being unfair by referring to this as a 21st century issue. To quote Jesus, “whoever is not with me is against me.” That seems a fitting description of how discourse seems to go. You don’t agree with my opinion about a presidential candidate, a new law, gun policy, and I’m going to insult you to hell and back, and dismiss everything you say from now on.
I love what I call grey stories. As nice as narratives like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Narnia are, I find stories like A Song of Ice and Fire, Watchmen, or Gone Girl so much more fascinating. Having no clear distinction between ‘goodies and baddies,’ or only showing ‘baddies’ is great. It makes you think about characters in a more complex way, and really stop and properly consider who you want to succeed, and why you do. Most of the time when I read books, or play videogames, or see movies with stories like that, I end up rooting for and against most characters. It’s difficult to completely agree or disagree with everyone. As comforting as easy answers are, they’re ultimately unsatisfying and incomplete.
Even so, when it comes to real-life conversations about how good a movie was, a politician’s stances, or an opinion on morality, a switch flips in my head and suddenly all that appreciation for complexity disappears. “Whoever is not with me is against me” again. The Bible says Jesus was fully God, but also fully human. Perhaps phrases like that betray his humanity, because nothing is more human than that sort of attitude. I do it. You do it. Everyone in the world does it. Well, they feel tempted to act in that way, anyways.
My point here is, just like there is much to be gained from analysing a book and the complex motivations of all the main characters, it’s important to look at the opinions of different people with an open mind. Not just to learn from them, and moderate your personal point of view, but also to understand them. You’ll never hear me say Donald Trump is a better candidate for US President than Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, but even while I disagree with his opinions (and much else besides), it’s critical to think about why so many people support him and listen to those opinions in a thorough way, instead of going with an easy answer. You might find you disagree just as much as you did before, maybe even more, but I strongly believe in the importance of seeing others complexly.
“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
The above is a fantastic quote from former US President John F. Kennedy. Truth and morality are not black-and-white. Nothing worth having comes easy. Pick your popular phrase; the point remains: it’s human to go for easy judgement, to hang around people with similar opinions, but it’s a dangerous game to play. They say hypothermia feels like slowly falling asleep. I like to think of ideas in the same way. If you’re not careful, being very aware of why you hold the opinions you do, you’ll nod off and end up unrecognisable.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Another great quote, this time from Socrates. I like this one a lot, and I also think of it in the context of not just the necessity of examining your identity and philosophy, but also in how we absolutely need to be constantly examining everything we believe.
I’ve left this post intentionally vague. I don’t want to mention my personal opinions about religion, social issues, or LGBT stuff here (though you can probably guess my stance on the latter), because it’s not the place for it. I’m not trying to convince you to agree with me on who the best person to lead the US is, or how rape accusations should be handled, or how much blame in confrontations with cops lies with each party, because that’s not particularly relevant.
All I’m saying is, listen to others. Understand why you believe the things you do, and instead of shutting others off, try to see where they’re coming from, why they hold the views they do, and try to be open to change. Dogma is the death of rational thought, don’t let yourself fall prey to it.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts below. Hope you all had a lovely weekend. I had a great Sunday but feel exhausted. Still, I managed to write a 1,000+ long post! Hurrah for me.