On Social Media and Tolerance : Bemusements
Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD
239 North Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY

On Social Media and Tolerance

by Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD. on 01/07/15

As a therapist, I'm used to having conversations day in and day out that often touch on issues that are hard to talk about.  I also have people in and out of my office whose opinions may differ from mine to varying degrees.  I won't pretend to be the most flexible, open-minded person in the world (I do hold tight to my opinions!) but I like to think that I can accept that others have different opinions, experiences, and viewpoints from me, and that in general I try to understand why they have those opinions, even if I don't agree with them, or think they are wrong.  In other words, I may not like your opinion, but you're entitled to it, and you're even entitled to voice it to me.  I'm pretty sure that's why we started this whole country in the first place. 

That being said, I'm quite struck by the lack of tolerance of others that I see today.  Rather than social media and the Internet exposing us to more varied opinions, it seems that all most of us really want is for people to echo our opinions and not veer from whatever party line we prescribe to.  I've been "unfriended" more than once for asking a question or stating a fact (not necessarily even expressing an OPINION or ARGUING with the initial poster).  As someone who often has tough conversations with people, who has to keep an open mind in order to demonstrate the empathy required of a therapist, this blows my mind.  So, if you express something, and I say, "I am not clear what you mean.  WHY do you feel that way?  I'm not understanding," rather than getting a thoughtful and respectful response I'm chastised for not taking a statement at face value.  Meanwhile, in my mind, what I want to do is LEARN from this other person what his or her experience is that might be different from mine, or how that person came to such a conclusion, as I did not connect the same dots and want to understand. 

If we spend all our time with people who have the same opinions as us we learn nothing.  If we expand our horizons and ask questions, we learn tremendous amounts.  When we expect everyone's experience to be the same as ours we invalidate the other person's experience and dismiss it as not worthy of our time.  My experience as a white female without siblings growing up in a borough of New York City with my particular family background and economic status is similar to some  and different from others.  If I presume that we share the same experience because it's MY experience, I am demonstrating an egocentricity that erases the true essence of the other person.  I'm saying that another's experience is not worthy of my understanding or even acknowledgement because it is not my experience.

Maybe we should all turn over a new leaf in the new year and try to listen with open minds to what others have to say.  We might learn something, make new friends, and have new experiences.  Social media has the potential to be a great platform for this, with diverse "friends" and opinions, and the time to think through a response because we are typing rather than talking.  However, ignoring (or worse) voices that are different from ours only increases the distance between us as human beings....a distance that is already too great. 

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