by Louise Lagman
Isn’t it ironic how social media’s aim to connect people to one another sometimes seems to make us more emotionally distant from each other?
In a psychology course I took in 2017 at University of Toronto, my professor mentioned why studying the psychology of prejudice is interesting to analyze and study in today’s current context: we live in a world that’s continuing to be more hyperpolarized particularly through social media.
Whether it’s un-friending someone on Facebook, unfollowing someone on Instagram, or blocking someone on Twitter; I think we are all guilty of removing someone we know because we don’t agree with their worldview and opinions they keep espousing. And let me be clear, I’m not suggesting you keep subjecting yourself to toxic or disrespectful rhetoric. What I am trying to get at, however, is how our opinions (informed by facts or not) are constantly validated by the social circles we selectively create for ourselves. The fear of being wrong is full of anxiety, so it’s normal to want to be validated. The idea of what we believe in could be wrong is daunting and terrifying for a lot of people. “If what I believe in is wrong, what else am I wrong about? Do I know anything at all?” Existential crisis aside, it’s understandable why we do what we do to alleviate that anxiety.
Just because what we do is understandable, however, doesn’t mean we should condone our avoidance behavior. Before I get into this, I implore folks to brush up on Brené Brown, a research professor known for her work on courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. In her latest work, Dare to Lead, she identifies the foundational skill of “rumbling with vulnerability.” If you have ever had to engage in difficult topics with someone, you know that it’s an emotional rollercoaster. There’s a lot of fear and shame when it comes to being vulnerable about difficult discussions. “What if I’m wrong? Maybe I’m just being stupid,” and other thoughts like this are what loom most people’s minds (well, at least mine) when it comes to “rumbling with vulnerability.” But we cannot live a life where we fear being wrong. We talk about being “woke” in today’s day and age, but it is more than being knowledgeable of social issues. On a personal and intimate level, being “woke” entails that you don’t know everything. It means you have the capacity to be wrong, which means you have the capacity to learn from it and be better. Being wrong is part of the human experience. It’s okay to admit that we (our thoughts, opinions, words, arguments) are guided by feelings instead of facts as long as we remember to adjust accordingly.
So what’s our defense mechanism for when someone brings up information that doesn’t fit in with our belief system? We get anxious. Scared. Angry. Our emotions become our armor because it’s easier to tell someone else they’re wrong and mute them instead of critically engaging in new information that challenges your values. I think this is where we all have a personal responsibility of 1) being open to new and challenging information, and 2) being critical of that information received before jumping the gun and labeling it as wrong. Social media has helped us connect to one another in ways that seem impossible even within the last ten years. We should take advantage of these new connections as new methods of learning things. When we are faced with the challenging task of accepting new information, our armored feelings associated with it are not inherently wrong. But when feelings get in the way of learning facts, that’s when we need to remind ourselves to be brave and curious. Be brave in admitting that you could be wrong, and be curious yet discerning about what new things you might learn.