By Alexis Book
As politics continue to engulf our lives and congest our Facebook feeds, it’s impossible to scroll through social media without seeing half-a-dozen articles promoting some leftist ideology. When I do find myself bored enough to skim through these articles, I often leave incredibly frustrated by how out-of-touch they are.
Now, I’m a diehard, loud-spoken, feminist-preaching, protest-attending, blue-blooded liberal. But I’m also a liberal who was raised by two uneducated, teen parents who grew up in the inner city that constantly question my views and values. If there’s anything I’ve learned from living in-between a group of PC college students and blunt and overt family members, it’s that you cannot count on communicating to everyone the same way.
But that’s what so much of the internet is. Pompous, unconvincing, albeit well-written articles made by highly-educated and privileged young adults are circulating the internet, putting down everyone from Steve Martin for calling Carrie Fisher beautiful to Ellen Degeneres for showing a picture of herself riding on Usain Bolt’s back. Now, these topics are all completely worthy of discussion. The implications behind the images we post and diction we use says a lot about our societal norms and raise important questions.
But here’s the thing. When you write something (or make a video, or a meme, or what have you), you’re addressing everyone with the potential to view it. Which is a ton of people from so many different backgrounds. We aren’t sitting down in coffee shops or libraries with a group of like-minded people discussing our ideas about gender construction and systematic oppression; in fact, we aren’t discussing anything at all. We’re writing and sharing articles, hastily commenting on statuses, and making the assumption that those who don’t agree with us are bigoted, ill-informed, and immoral. Instead of teaching, we’re preaching, and we’re doing it from a distance.
In real life, most of us partake in what’s known as communication accommodation theory: the idea that when we’re communicating with different people, we adjust the tone of our voice, how we gesticulate, and the word choice we make, and let that person’s communication style influence how we will respond.
You wouldn’t talk to a kindergartener how you would talk to your professor, because you realize that wouldn’t be very effective. So why is it that, when we get behind a keyboard, this changes? We make blanket statements about right and wrong, assume that everyone reading what we have to say is interpreting and understanding our language the same way, and penalize an entire group of people who can’t respond for themselves. It’s moronic to assume that using the same language in your women and gender studies class is going to be well-received with people who aren’t as educated as you are or have the same interests as you do.
What you say is not nearly as important as how you say it, and unfortunately most of us are not skilled enough to accurately translate our thoughts and intentions into shareable blog posts. Even in videos, where we can give a more accurate account of our thoughts, we still are ignoring an important aspect of communication: their immediate and simultaneously occurring response. Their nonverbal, their tone, and their ability to understand and interpret what you’re saying in real time. Communication is a two-way channel and when we use mass media to generalize groups of people and peddle our views… Well, it doesn’t look too good for us.
During The Griffin’s trip to San Francisco, I heard something very important from the Keynote Speaker. He was talking about the issues in journalism and why liberals were losing elections, and how someone like Trump got brought into office. He mentioned the disconnect between liberal millennials and working class Republicans. Specifically, he told a story about meeting with a Trump supporter who was a truck driver and had a son who was graduating high school, and all that he hoped for his son was that he would also be able to be a truck driver. Like the other 31-percent of high school graduates who don’t enroll in college upon graduating, the promise of a paying job is all that they could want. This father had recently viewed the viral video of a Yale student complaining about offensive Halloween costumes and privileged white men.
If you were a white male with a lousy trucker job and your only hope for your family is that they can also be a truck driver, how convinced do you think that they are that the real problem is white men appropriating different cultures during Halloween? How effective do you think it is when we yell, scream, or write 2,000 word articles demonizing another group? My guess (and the election results) would say no.
I’m not saying that appropriation of other cultures and white male privilege don’t exist and aren’t problems; I’m saying that the only people who really understand those problems, why they’re problems, and want to discuss and change them are (normally) other well-educated and informed adults.
We have got to stop talking to people as if they all have the same knowledge and prioritization of problems as we do. It’s easy to complain about gender structures and Halloween costumes in a setting of people who are equipped with the ability to think critically about this issue. It’s not easy or effective to use that same method of communication to talk to people who just aren’t in that same mindset or who have to focus on dramatically bigger issues, like feeding their families and getting to work every day.
Even if your argument is valid, it doesn’t matter if you’re not getting through to the people you need to be communicating with. And being pompous never won anyone an argument.
More often than not, I’d like to think that people have genuinely good intentions. They want to protect the people they love, achieve personal happiness and stability, and follow their own set of values, whatever they may be. I find it hard to believe that everyone who makes an insensitive comment is actually a horrible person and I find it even harder to believe that their actions and comments are deserving of a world-wide discussion about them. When we turn their statements and conversations into rant videos and forum posts, we’re cutting them off. We are halting a potential discussion and limiting both parties from improving themselves.
It’s so easy to get angry about something that is personal to you. I often fall victim to sharing every anti-Trump or anti-Republican article I see and can catch myself rolling my eyes at people who don’t understand issues that I find to be legitimate and of concern. But it’s time we learn to catch ourselves as we do that and question if how we’re communicating is effective.
It’s time we stop whining and start talking… and more importantly, start listening. If we want to be taken seriously in our daily lives, if we want our legislative opinions considered, if we want someone like Trump to never be in the White House again, we need to change the way we communicate.