We are still relative infants in using the "new" information technology. Too often we take any piece of news, "research" or opinion as equal information. We love the emotions these colorful sources provoke: Compared to the delicious menu of blogs, discussion forums and tabloid headlines, the old days when the whole nation gathered on the sofa to watch the evening TV news seem like a hazy memory from the Soviet Union.
It is quite disturbing to watch the parliament’s plenary session and count the percentage of minutes used to make “the other party” – holding the opposite, i.e., wrong, opinion – look bad. Politicians don’t seem to use their greatest efforts for really working to understand other people and viewpoints – neither is it considered cool or the sign of professionalism – but rather are part of a great race towards misunderstanding others. Who cares about the complexity of the problem and the exciting chance that if we all put our heads together, we just might be able to come up with a real solution?
This is all, well, understandable. Not understanding is easy. Understanding, on the other hand, requires effort. And that little creature, if anything, is not in vogue right now.
The reason for jumping to make quick judgments of others instead of trying to understand is that we appreciate an easy message. It gives us a clear judgment. Think about it: As an average citizen, it’s relatively easy to react to a news headline saying “Politicians said no to the student financial aid raise”. You can go “Oh those bastard politicians, once again bailing out on promises. They should be thinking about the youth!” However, it is very different to hear the same phenomenon described more truthfully: “The budget meeting decided to prioritize special education and basic schooling in sparsely populated areas over increases in student pay, because there simply was no money to allocate for all causes”. To react to that, you have to weigh the alternatives, perhaps compromise your own view, question old patterns of action and think about better ones. You would have to admit that life is about trade-offs, big and small - not easy answers.
In this way, hunting for clear judgments, we try to create order to the chaos of life. We still have naïve fantasies of being able to categorize people, acts and perspectives into “good” and “bad”. These fantasies date back to our childhood, when we were told stories were bad guys did something threatening but eventually the good guys won. For kids, this kind of black-and-white simplification serves a purpose: It shields children from complex phenomena they cannot yet understand and that have the potential to be very scary and interfere with their feeling of security growing up. For adults, it’s denial and laziness. And sadly, it does not create structure to the chaos. Quite the opposite: since any object can be made look incomprehensible, pointless and foolish, nothing makes sense any more. Wild flaming opinions with no desire to understand the other party create a confusing, restless society – a bit like the one we live in.
My dream is that we start making it cool again to take effort to really think. Start to appreciate the ones who voice their balanced opinions with real, thought-through pros and cons. They are not necessarily able to sell their views to complex societal phenomena in a simple "HELL YEAH!!" or "FUCK NO!!" format - but the content that's behind the headline might compensate for the effort needed to listen to more than two syllables.
A good, simple test for determining whether someone really has thought thoroughly before shouting out a judgment is to ask: Can you list the upsides of the solution you are not supporting? (For example, for someone campaigning for raising kids at home, posing the question: “What advantages do you think kindergarten has compared to raising kids at home?”) I use this in everyday interaction when needing to rely on other people’s judgments in topics I don’t know and they are experts in. If a person can calmly and diversely list the upsides of the solution they are not supporting, as well as the downsides of their own favorite solution, then they have at least considered the other option before jumping to conclusion.
The plain truth is, the real problems of the world cannot be solved by frantically pushing real or imaginary like/unlike buttons. Thinking and feeling, real use of the head and the heart, grasping trade-offs and real understanding of people, things and phenomena are required. Thank God for that. Otherwise the best of what we as the humankind have to offer would go to waste.