More Than a Moment

A Response to the (Opinion) Article: “How We Destroy Lives Today” by David Brooks, The New York Times

David Brooks is right: political polarization is no longer about the issues. It’s about rushing to judgments “powered by crude prejudice and social stereotyping” and expounding on those judgments with a megaphone on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The notable absence of nuance in political discourse is not a novel idea. It’s been around since at least the advent of social media, but assuredly long before. As Brooks argues: “In this technology, a single moment is more important than a life story. In this technology, a main activity is proving to the world that your type is morally superior to the other type.” Making generalizations is easy—it takes very little thought to jump to conclusions—but the consequences are alarming. Not only does rushing to judgments spread misinformation through the internet like a raging wildfire across a prairie, it reduces the ability to get to the truth. Moreover, it’s not a good look. Even seemingly respectable people hurled insults at the poster boy with the smirk on his face: “Reza Aslan, the religious scholar, tweeted a photo of the main Covington boy and asked, ‘Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?’ The filmmaker Michael Green showed the same image and tweeted: ‘A face like that never changes. This image will define his life. No one need ever forgive him.’” Some offenses may be unforgivable, but it’s hard to believe this one is.

Before feverishly thumbing our thoughts into our phones and out into the ether, we should ask ourselves: What’s the story behind the image? What’s the story behind this person, these people? The goal should be twofold: we need to work towards an understanding of individuals as having multidimensional and intersecting identities and we need to consistently exercise that understanding in our encounters on social media platforms. We can no longer afford to lose the nuance of a situation. No doubt this is an ideal, but it’s one we should constantly aspire to achieve. While it’s not easy, having this understanding invites compassion and empathy into daily interactions. The face a person shows at a moment in time is by far not wholly representative of their entire being and what they stand for. One viral moment shouldn’t mean banishment into oblivion. Once this is understood, it is easier to contextualize a person or a group’s actions and give them the benefit of the doubt. It allows us all to be bigger than we are in one particular moment. And I believe this way of thinking is liberating, both for ourselves and others. It lets us all take a deep breath.

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