Now is the time to be kind to yourself
Therapy in polarised times
Over the past twenty years of offering therapy, I have been surprised by the growing intensity of feeling around debates that often don’t impact us directly. I respect that strong feelings are aroused and social justice is important. But do you remember when we might have said, ‘I don’t agree with you, but I can see where you’re coming from’? I haven’t heard that lately: not online nor in real life. Social media is accused of providing a powerful echo chamber that reinforces our views, prejudices and blind-spots, while we fixate on blaming those we oppose who have another way of selecting and interpreting their evidence.
The Oxford Union used to challenge debate participants to argue the opposite of their personal position to hone skills and fully understand the other’s perspective. Is no-one interested in understanding the other today? Levels of rage, hostility and threat appear unprecedented. What would our public discourse be like if, instead of contributing to the existing hostile cancel culture, we each chose to listen with curiosity, to treat opponents with respect and even value real differences among us; and if we held civil conversations with those who take a different view? What if the over-simplified, well-rehearsed narratives in circulation are not the only options?
I have read venomous prose on all sides in recent society-wide debates ranging from identity to international politics, as if debaters' lives were under genuine threat. I fully appreciate that most views are sincerely held and many are coherent and reasonable. But if, in the heat of online debates especially, offence is taken and we resort to contemptuously caricaturing our opponents, don't we begin to lose sight of our common humanity? Does this no longer matter?
When the chips are down, doesn't character matter more than opinion? Not trendy perhaps, but I'd rather be out-argued than rude. We always have the choice how we respond. Why not show curiosity, respect and kindness, even to those we fundamentally disagree with? I have never understood why this is so frequently seen as a sign of weakness.
I believe anyone healthy can grow and change, given the right conditions. If we truly want to.
How about you?
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