Saturday, January 19, 2013

Reading between the lines

People are interesting, aren't they?

I've always enjoyed people watching.  The way people dress, carry themselves, speak, act and behave in different situations is fascinating.  Watching interactions and conversations of others can be both entertaining and educational.  There is much to learn from our fellow man, woman and child.  Not only about them and what they are saying, but about ourselves.   How we feel and react to what they are saying and doing holds a wealth of information for us about ourselves. Someone who makes us mad isn't about them, it's about us.  Our reactions are ours and ours alone.  It's not about them, it's about us.

I find that people are most interesting when discussing a controversial or 'hot' topic.  Their body language, tone of voice, speed of language output and mannerisms convey as much, if not more, than their actual words.  This is when we have the most to learn.  About others, the subject matter at hand and most importantly, about ourselves.

What I find most compelling, and to be frank, most annoying, is the utter lack of respect shown to the other person or people participating in the conversation.  So many of us seem to think we are right.  The 'it's my way or the highway' mentality that is all too pervasive in our culture.  They refuse to acknowledge the other person's view point.  Often, not even allowing them to finish speaking before interrupting to tell them why that person is wrong and they are right.  We don't 'listen'.  We 'hear' what we want to hear and if we disagree, immediately start to prepare a counter-argument instead of listening to everything that person is saying, first.

Sometimes they outright ignore evidence.  Sometimes that evidence is incomplete, old, deceptive or outright false.  Instead of a calm, rational, respectful conversation, grown and educated men and women quickly dissolve into verbally abusive and insolent tantruming toddlers who will kick and scream until they get their way and 'win'.  Perhaps most appalling is that this is played out in the national media every day, somehow making it not only acceptable, but expected.

This becomes a bit more challenging when trying to interpret the written word.  Especially that of someone whom you do not know personally.  It is what inspired this post.  I have both a personal Facebook page and a page for Meghan's Hope.  They are completely different and separate.  It's fascinating to me how people behave in their comments on both.

Meghan's page is a professional page.  It has a mission. The mission is simple. Child Safety.  I post links that have to do with child safety.  They are not my opinion or anyone else's opinion.  They are facts.  I don't expect everyone to agree.  We all have a right to parent the way we see is best for our family.  We are human, we have free will.  Life is about choices.  I don't tell people what to do, I tell them what the can do to make their homes and their children safer.  If they don't agree with a particular post, it doesn't bother me.  It doesn't change my goal or the mission of the page.  There are over 11,000 'likes'.  I'd be a fool to think everyone will agree.  I know with that many people, comments will be what they will be.  If they are way off base, abusive, incorrect or inappropriate, I can comment or delete the offensive comment.  If it's respectful or helpful, I let it go.  I've not yet deleted anyone's comments, even though on a personal level, I often disagree with them.  That's not my role on this page.

What I learned is that especially with the written word, it's really difficult to read between the lines.  In everything we do, our life experiences and beliefs influence our opinions and our behavior.  Being aware of this is a skill far too many people are lacking.  Too many people are so blinded by their own beliefs and opinions that they completely miss the point, they can't hear anything else because they refuse to listen.  It makes me sad for the future of our children.

This is what  got me thinking:  I posted the AAP's statement on guns in the home.  It was not my opinion, it was the AAP's. It was several years old, but that's how research goes sometimes.  I didn't include any personal message, just the link.  Almost immediately people started posting they disagreed with ME about guns, some posted although they agreed with most of the info I posted, they were now un-liking the page because of this one post they thought was my opinion or simply disagreed with.  A banter about gun control began in the comments.  I thought to myself, 'Really?  People are going to stop learning about ways to keep their kids safe over something they both misinterpreted and disagreed with.  How sad.  How very, very sad."  I quickly posted a message clarifying the statement was the AAP's, not mine, and a gentle reminder that while I respect opinions may differ and acknowledge that guns are a heated issue right now, this was a page about child safety pure and simple, not a place for debate.  Sadly, more people were compelled to state their agenda.  I wrote nothing more and it ran it's course.

Where did we as a society go wrong and accept this sort of disrespectful behavior as socially acceptable and normal?  Where did we lose the ability to be able to read something and understand the content fully before commenting?  When did it become acceptable to preach false information as fact?  I suspect with the explosion of technology that gave us the internet, smart phones and social media.  We have too much information at our fingertips.  Much of it made up, false, incorrect or opinion interpreted as fact.  It's hard to tell the difference.  We have lost the ability to converse.  The lack of interpersonal contact seems to have given us a sense of security somehow to treat people in ways we probably wouldn't if they were standing in front of us with witnesses to our behavior.  SO much is lost, misinterpreted or simply not there in reading something.  The intent of the author can be lost in the emotions, expectations and beliefs of the reader.  Part of the beauty of conversation is that it is immediate and all those other clues to the other person are available to us because they are right in front of us, the banter is immediate and we know them on a personal level now.

In contrast, my personal Facebook page is just that, personal.  I don't have 500 'friends' because I don't really have that many friends!  I don't want people I don't know and trust seeing pictures of my kids, misinterpreting and sharing my posts nor do I want to see theirs.  I post about topics of interest to me.  I comment to that which resonates with me.  I might share my opinion there,or express a personal preference but even if I disagree with someone, it's respectful and most of the time, accepted as such. My friends are still my friends.  They know me.  They'd expect nothing less.  I may disagree with them or they with me.  It's ok.  That's life.  I don't try to convince them they are wrong if I disagree.  I don't un-friend them because they post something I fundamentally disagree with.  I just ignore it.  Life goes on.  We don't have to agree.  We do have to respect each other.  Seems to be a simple value every person should posses, don't you think?

Generally speaking, I try to avoid conflict.  I  pride myself on trying to be a neutral party, especially professionally.  I try to understand both sides of an issue.  I try to learn facts before commenting.  When I teach, it's based on fact, not my opinion.  Whenever possible, it's evidence-based, research backed fact, not just regurgitating someone else's opinion.  I am aware and respectful of the fact not everyone operates the same way.  Why is it so hard for others to do the same?  In this electronic age, we need to become more savvy at reading between the lines.  We need to cultivate respect.  We need to teach the value of research, and evidence based information. We need our government, educators and society as a whole to demand and demonstrate these tenets of virtue and value.

If we don't, we're well on our way to a verbal and virtual hell in a hand-basket of mis-information with the loudest and most intimidating people 'winning'.  Most likely with inaccurate information.  We're losing social graces.  We're losing the fine art of conversation and interpersonal interaction.   We are doing a tremendous disservice to our kids and our society.  I don't deny I'm an idealist, but I'm sad for our future.  I'm sad for our children and the world they are inheriting.

Perhaps we start with teaching our kids how to read between the lines.

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