Now, I certainly approve of thinking--exploring multiple sides of an issue to create an informed and thoughtful society is righteous.
But at what point do we start to overthink? At what point do we start to dive so deep into an issue that we’ve lost perspective of the big picture? At what point does all this opinion become just another tool to distract and divide and anger?
The digital age and social media are the perpetrators of this burgeoning problem.
Back in the day articles and editorials were vetted by editors and managers, requiring a skilled level of research and verification of sources. All the rest of us had an opinion, but aside from setting up a soapbox and wielding a bullhorn on a street corner, our audience was our friends, family, and co-workers--people we typically respect or would at least treat with respect when talking about a difficult issue face-to-face.
These days anyone can scribe whatever unedited, unauthenticated, scathing idea they want, and then post it on any number of digital soapboxes, from Facebook to Twitter to blogs (oh hi me!). Just as before, all of us have an opinion, but now we have a much louder and unmonitored bullhorn from which to scream it. And we get to do so with relative anonymity, opening the door to the types of tactless and inconsiderate responses you'd never repeat to someone in person.
An infinite number of opinions are available and easily culled from a Google search as well, allowing us to find a tailor-made think piece to confirm our viewpoint. And then we rebroadcast it from our flamboyantly loud digital soapbox, inflating the power of that opinion, no matter how inaccurate, erroneous, or untrue.
Back in the day, not everything was perfect either. We had a limited number of sources for our information--dependent on local school and library funding, accessibility of TV broadcast news, and your proximity to a newsstand. And not everyone in the mainstream media has a perfect track record of providing accurate and unbiased information either. But beyond that, there were always good and decent writers and journalist trying to provide authentic information and well-reasoned opinions.
A friend of mine recently stated that "no one ever convinces anyone of anything on the internet," and I tend to agree. No matter how impassioned your plea, very few people read a mini think piece on social media and think to themselves, “you know what, they're right and I'm wrong.”
It’s trite, but true.
Instead of providing a new perspective to shift our thinking for the better, an opine typically only elicits either adulation or anger--and that anger typically isn't very polite.
I can’t tell you how many times over the last few months that a think piece, or a Facebook regurgitation of a think piece, has taken me away from mindfulness. Running through any number of potential responses in my mind, instead of enjoying my morning walk with my dog. Typing out any number of potential responses, instead of writing a new article for Elephant Journal. Just generally consuming and distracting my mind when there are so many more fruitful and beneficial things I could be focusing on.
I have to balance my thoughts on this. Certainly I’m not going to advocate everyone just shut up and keep their ideas and opinions to themselves. To claim I'm some kind of expert at knowing when to let go of an argument would be entirely hypocritical.
But that doesn't mean we can't all try and be a little better... consider your source, be smart and respectful about what you say, stay away from opinionated rhetoric that only seeks to antagonize, pause and take a deep breath before you comment with vehemence, and make a reasonable effort to do some research before you claim something is ”fact.”
This broad network of information we have at our fingertips can be used for kindness or cruelty. The tack we take is up to each one of us.
So, let's all be kind.