Someone asked, “How are you finding the increased hostility and shaming that goes on online these days”? I had to sit with that for a while. It’s been on my mind for a while, and it’s got stronger since the whole corona virus circus started. Heavily one-sided opinions being forged, voiced and defended left, right and centre seems to possibly be a part of the much-heralded ”new normal”. And how was I finding it?
I remember a day in May, when a high-profile male in Sweden had been caught buying sex. Suddenly, the experience on social media, at least as far as Swedes were concerned, was about sex trafficking and misogyny. Not to mention, of course, the man and the deed in themselves. Suddenly, the voices calling for more covid-19 restriction, proclaiming conspiracy theories and/or otherwise telling everyone else about everything they got wrong around the pandemic, fell silent. Or rather, I suspect, they switched to voicing their contempt, explanations and/or opinions around the sex trade. It was a bit like your mind on occasion, when you’re meditating, or attempting it. It doesn’t really matter that much what it gets to be vocal about, as long as there’s something.
Issue overload, entering riot mode
Then the sex-buying man fell gradually into the background again. (Although not before unwittingly raising a ton of awareness around the problem, thanks!) And we would have been back to corona-based opinion factories operating at full blast again … Only then, the news about the George Floyd case started spreading. Along with that came the raised awareness for the BLM movement and systemic racism in general. And now the international scene, too, had buffet of its own with hot issues to offer opinions about.
Don’t get me wrong; the awareness of these issues is important. I’m not saying it’s not, or that acting in the interest of the issues being resolved isn’t a good thing. No, this is about collective energy. It’s about how we, as individuals, are affected by it — for better or worse. And about how the ego hi-jacks even the most noble causes (again, for better or worse) and creates havoc.
I’m reminded of a scene in the movie Bruce Almighty. Jim Carrey’s “Bruce” has been given God’s powers and, at a loss how to do the job, has granted everyone’s wishes in bulk to make the incessant prayers quiet down. (One result is everyone wins the lottery — rendering the win so small that everyone is pissed off.) His shallow quick-fix solutions to world problems rocks the status quo, causes massive confusion — and, course, doesn’t really fix anything. The general havoc creates a feeling of the end being nigh, the result of which is riots, looting and everyone going berserk. (In the wake of the George Floyd murder, that wasn’t even far off the mark compared to what really happened.)
The nature of opinion factories
Anyway. All these are strong issues, leading to heated discussions with great personal investments. Consequently, we see harsh language, speedy comebacks and plenty of judgements and shaming. I have noticed this tendency increasingly in the last couple of years, along with a more hostile political climate. But it’s like 2020 came with an accelerant, spiking people’s fear, and defences. This, in turn, gave a surge of fuel for everyone’s opinion factories.
It’s like we each have an inward opinion factories. In some people, this machine is rusty and dusty from years of disuse. For others, the parts collecting and sifting through existing opinions are well oiled, but the parts where opinions are made from scratch is not. In others, all parts are running, and in some, they are overheated.
As such, there is nothing wrong with these “factories”. They are just parts of the mind, collecting data (in this case, opinions) and processing them to figure out what to do with them and how to relate to them. But just like so many other faculties of the mind, this is not in itself a good or bad thing. It just is. In most cases, it’s really helpful to know where we stand. The problem is that fear and stress generally causes us to jump to conclusions, and judge more harshly. We see things increasingly in black and white and, overall, stop taking anything in. And that isn’t really helping anyone — people or causes.
What energy am I feeding?
As an Eight, I’ve traditionally been a fan of having opinions, voicing them and promoting them aggressively. I was well into adulthood before I realised that it was not just about the facts. It was not just about right and wrong. Sure, often it was also about right and wrong, but me merely being right wasn’t going to convince anyone who had an investment in the opposing opinion. Gradually, I started becoming aware of the energy with which I, and others, communicated. These last years, and this year in particular, the harshening of the climate has been palpable. And it seems, so has the reasons for posting and engaging.
Because of this, it has come as somewhat of a surprise, actually, how uncomfortable I feel with the current climate. Or rather, maybe, how personally affected, despite the fact that I mightn’t be personally involved at the time. I’m used to feeling like this if I have got actively involved. If I feel there are things that need defending. If discussions heat up in a way that feels disproportionate, or I smell insincerity or hidden agendas. Then I’d feel affected because of the subject matter and my involvement. But otherwise, I would read it (should I be interested in the people/subject) or just scroll by.
It was not just about right and wrong. Sure, often it was also about right and wrong, but me merely being right wasn’t going to convince anyone who had an investment in the opposing opinion.
Now, I find myself uncharacteristically affected by the overall tone of many (or even most) of the discussions. Be it race, vaccines, different countries’ covid strategies — the opinion factories out there, and the aggressive stance that seems to permeate even the smallest (and the most purportedly life-affirming) statements, is deeply unsettling. Moreover, the poster is obviously not interested in counter arguments, or even questions. The purpose of posting clever (and shaming) memes or statements is just to strengthen the poster’s affinity with a certain group. It’s not about fostering fruitful discussion. In this kind of setting, I find myself instinctively keeping my head down and not engaging. I just don’t want to feed this energy.
Opportunities for growth —
the custom challenges we face
However, the current climate does offer its own set of opportunities for inner growth. What energy do I want to feed? Where do I want to engage? How can I do that in a productive manner? Do I just want to just get my views off my chest and possibly finding allies doing the same? Are we still spreading poison)?
Also, what areas, projects and insights do I actually want to nurture, express and contribute to the spreading of? These mightn’t necessarily address the issues directly, but that help foster a climate that allows that to happen. What do I gravitate towards? Where is the affirmative, for me — rather than just the things I object to?
Important questions indeed. I feel blessed to have found them ❤️