It doesn’t particularly matter where you get your news these days, the overarching theme is the same: individuals, groups, political parties, or countries with opposing, often strongly opposing, points of view. From feeds on the BBC to Facebook, from Reuters to Sky to the blogs people follow, journalism, articles, comment pieces, and Twitter feeds are dominated by news that has conflict at its roots.
There’s political conflict between presidential candidates and there’s internal conflict between pro- and anti- EU voters. Worse, there’s conflict born of politicised humanitarian disasters as people disagree over how (or whether!) to protect refugees. Worse still, there’s the horrifically violent conflict in various corners of the world. There is, sadly, too much conflict to list.
All of these things, to different degrees, are frightening. The future seems full of problems that show no sign of going away. What is more frightening though, when you look at it all together, when you watch the news and discuss it with your friends or family, is this: however righteous you feel about a topic, however certain you are that your solution, your standpoint, your values are correct, or moral, or divine even, there are people who disagree who think they are equally right. And, over many things, they are as un-swaying as you know you are.
You can watch presidential debates and scoff at supporters of your opponent. You can laugh at their stupidity, defiant in your belief that you are on the “right” side. But the other side thinks your just as wrong, just as stupid.
This, then, is the real enemy.
Because, every time I scorn at a headline that disgusts me, or every time I laugh at the preposterousness of a politician’s proposals, someone else is nodding vehemently in agreement or becoming more assured that they’re going to put their cross in the right box come polling day.
It’s a dilemma as old as mankind, would tightly in the paradox that one man’s right is another man’s wrong.
Naturally, we all think that other people should just come around to our way of thinking. We want to present our cases, argue our point of view, and convince others that we’re right. Those of us who consider ourselves open-minded might even listen to the other arguments. We debate them with our friends and feel very pleased with ourselves for our liberal thinking and our intelligent conversation, before going to bed as convinced as ever that we are right. It keeps us warm at night, this conviction.
The thing is, the other side are sleeping soundly too, wrapped in their own blanket of self righteousness.
Cynical and downbeat as this sounds, the truth in it keeps glaring me in the face. Let’s take the US election, from which there’s no escaping anyway. Thankfully, I am a bystander, holding my breath until November 8th. Were I a voter, however, I know exactly where my vote wouldn’t be going. I know which side shocks and appalls me. And every time I see or hear from Trump supports, I find myself totally and utterly at a loss. I do not, can not, understand the arguments. This difference in views, this opposition of thinking, this knowledge that there is zero chance of me changing my opinions is made only more confusing and worrisome by the fact that those who think differently to me are as fixed and as assured of their view as I am.
We find ourselves at an impasse.
Fortunately, though, the world doesn’t divide into questions with yes or no answers. When examined closely, most topics can be painted in shades of grey. People can change their minds. Discussion can bring about change. It’s just, sometimes, picking up a paper, reading a news article, or catching the headlines, I’m more scared by my lack of ability to understand some people’s thinking than I am the story itself. The frightening thing remains the chasm between the broad values that I (and many of my friends have) and the opinions of others that seem so removed, so alien from my own. And all this while trying to someone who is willing to listen, willing to move if convinced otherwise.
These are thoughts without conclusions. Pessimistic as they are, it isn’t meant to be all doom and gloom. It’s over simplistic to see the world in groups of us verses them. At times, I disagree with my nearest and dearest on many things, and I don’t love them any less. Often, we can accept the opinions of those around us when we don’t agree and in these bitesized portions can manage and respect other people in their opposing views.
It’s just, on a world level, I don’t know how to figure this one out…