The View from The Niagara Guide

General observations and musings on how we can make Niagara a better place.

Hoping for Understanding and Reason

Mark Kawabe - Monday, November 14, 2016

Stay Calm and Try to Understand

If you've been anywhere near social media over the past year, you've probably heard there's a "divide". Actually, there are dozens of these so-called "divides". Thinking about the world this way is very common. I think there's a better way.

From an early age, we taught our kids about continuums. For example, "good" and "bad" are points at either end of a continuum. There's a huge range of possibilities in between. And, with this particular example, even good and bad aren't at the end of the continuum, because they too can be surpassed by "godlike" and "purely evil".

There is subtlety and nuance to every issue and yet, people believe and behave otherwise. From a psychological perspective, this makes sense. It is easier to believe you're right when the alternative is clear. When someone else disagrees with you, it's less taxing to demonize them than it is to take the effort to understand their perspective.

Humans are wired for something called "confirmation bias". We like agreeing with people who share our views. We are more comfortable with like-thinkers and are less comfortable when presented with people or information that aren't in line with our way of thinking. Because of this, we are more likely to dismiss information and people who we disagree with. The internet and social media make it easier for us to feed our confirmation bias. And, lest you think I'm vilifying you, I also want to point out that confirmation bias is a largely unconscious process.

Thankfully, we can choose to act differently. The choice is always there to open your mind to the larger possibilities an issue presents. Instead of jumping to conclusions, taking a moment to be genuinely curious and trying to see all sides of an issue is more productive than falling back to an entrenched view of an issue and to those who don't agree with your perspective.

Try this the next time you encounter a viewpoint that's contrary to yours. Genuinely seek to understand. Perhaps you'll be surprised to learn you have more in common with someone you disagree with. When we work from our commonalities instead of our differences, we'll be better positioned to build stronger relationships and more cohesive communities based on understanding instead of distrust.

 



Thoughts About Getting Along

Mark Kawabe - Monday, October 17, 2016

Working together for the common good

I'm wondering if you're observing the same thing I am. Public discourse is continuing to deteriorate. Negativity, insults and anger are becoming more and more prevalent.

It's understandable, I think, because in general, people are angry and scared.

Angry because things aren't going their way. Angry because things are changing. Angry because things that don't matter to them matter a LOT to other people, and it doesn't make sense to them. And, scared because if the other people "get their way", there will be change from "the way things were".

Others are angry because they're on "the other side". They're the ones who've been oppressed and marginalized. Attitudes are shifting, acceptance is starting to come, but it's not coming fast enough because things that matter to them don't matter to a lot of other people, and it doesn't make sense to them. Scared because if the movement starts to fizzle, things will potentially go back to "the way things were".

Fear and anger are also combined with a societal trend towards individualism. Everyone has rights as an individual. While this is true, I think many of us have forgotten our responsibilities to ourselves and society.

We need each other in order to survive and thrive. Out of a population of 7 billion, the number of people who could survive on their own with no help from any other human is incredibly low. Do you run a business? You need customers. Do you eat? You need a farmer.

While we are interdependent, we are not well interconnected. We organize ourselves into communities based on religion, race, orientation, socio-economic status and more. In general, our communities don't mix, and as a result, our ability to understand each other is limited.

Don't understand the "black lives matter" movement? It's probably because you're not black, don't have black friends, don't live in areas where many black people live, and don't experience policing the way black people do.

Are you having trouble understanding why indigenous activists would prefer we not refer to Cleveland's baseball team by their name or show their logo in the media? I'll take a guess then that you're not indigenous, don't have any friends who are, and don't experience discrimination and negative cultural stereotypes the way indigenous people do.

Perhaps you're annoyed at our government. Fair enough. Most people are. The Liberal party happens to be in power in Ontario and Canada. You can disagree with their policies and approach, but insulting Liberal leaders and those who voted Liberal simply polarizes the discussion rather than leading to a productive solution. Building a society where we all work together means learning how to listen, empathize, and if we choose to disagree, to disagree with understanding. 

If we collectively all want to live in peace and harmony, we need to become more integrated into each other's communities. This is not an easy task. It can be uncomfortable. That discomfort gives us an excuse to avoid taking the steps needed to foster better understanding between people.

We have a right to be angry and scared, but we also have a responsibility to ourselves and to our children and to all those we are interdependent with to make this world a better place. Mutual respect, understanding and compassion are required to move our society forward. Improving our society means improving our discourse with each other.

It starts with me, and it starts with you.

 




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