An opinion is only that, an opinion. All opinions are valid as they are simply views or judgments based on one’s personal beliefs. Everyone is entitled to them. Everyone has opinions with which others strongly disagree. They are subjective, and certainly not conclusive.
Opinions aren’t new. However, over the past couple decades we’ve seen the proliferation of social media platforms. It started with websites like MySpace and Friendster and has lead to social media apps like Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and various others that I am probably too out of touch to be fully up to date with. These platforms have some obvious benefits. Many marginalized groups are able to hold safe space in these places, often with anonymity that can protect their identities and allow them to share more freely, allowing feelings of acceptance and validation. This can be life-saving for individuals who feel misunderstood, rejected or isolated from their peers.
There’s also a very dark side to social media that seems to be growing; it promotes shame for certain groups while attempting to empower others. If you use Facebook, for example, you should understand that there are algorithms in place, which are designed to simply feed you ideas that agree with your worldview. While this is happening on your computer screen, there is another individual who’s beliefs differ from you being fed information that further enforces his beliefs. The more each side continues to be spoon-fed information that justifies their beliefs, the more extreme those beliefs become.
Eventually, we stop seeing people as individuals and start to judge them solely based on their stance on the controversial topic du jour.
This leads to conflict with no resolution. Both sides, dogmatic in their beliefs name-call, shame and poke one another until the whole thing devolves into chaos. Nothing is resolved. Both sides have their beliefs reinforced again, “I am right, and the other side is either stupid or evil.” Who, with a Facebook account, hasn’t at some point scrolled through an argument over a political post and seen the thread regress into name-calling, with words like “MAGA Moron” or “Libtard” being thrown around? No one wins and the two sides move further away from any common ground.
This is where we are. We have a cataclysmic income gap, one of the worst healthcare systems of any developed nation, a huge national debt, mass surveillance, and politicians that seem to care less and less about the actual human beings that put them in office. And this is where we will stay if we insist on being so attached to our beliefs and unwilling to empathize with the positions of others. The political climate has been so divisive, so belligerent that many people honestly believe they can’t even have a conversation with another human being based on who that human being voted for, and without any knowledge of why they decided to do so. Let’s call that what it is: ignorant. You can talk all you want about how terrible/disgusting/dumb our current Commander in Chief is, but when you shut people down based on their voicing of an opinion that is different than your own, aren’t you doing exactly what you hate him for doing?
Connection with others, in and of itself, is the key to change.
However, the connection we seek has damaged us. Social media platforms are exploiting flaws in our psychology. If you don’t believe me, put “facebook designed to be addictive” in your search engine, and you’ll find several articles referencing a Facebook creator’s admission that the platform was designed to exploit “a vulnerability in human psychology,” and that he fears what it is doing to the brains of children who use it regularly. Many of the other social media platforms, I would wager, were designed to exploit that same flaw. In essence, we get addicted to the feedback we get from social media, and so we return to it over and over again. We get a dopamine hit from writing a scathing response to someone. This phenomenon has caused such turmoil in our brains that we are actually giving ourselves a little chemical reward for publicly being terrible to another human being. This is highly disturbing.
The way I see it, the more we’re looking down into our phones, computers and tablets, then the less we are looking at the faces of people we walk by on the street.
On the internet, things are safer, we can easily pick out the groups that share our opinions and sink comfortably into an echo chamber, where we can avoid true conflict resolution. This echo chamber then reinforces the most extreme parts of an individual’s beliefs by creating an environment where anyone who speaks out, however reasonably, in opposition is immediately ridiculed, bullied, shamed and often threatened. We can’t learn to reason intelligently about topics, and actually address the issues when there is no room for discourse. It is essential that, as individuals, we seek out and dialog with those who are different from us. I don’t think we need to step away from social media entirely, rather, I think we need to spend more time reminding ourselves that every individual we interact with is more than just a simple opinion, more than just a username and avatar, more than a meme. We are far too complex for that sort of reductive thinking.
Rich Brodt is a former intern at People House, and is currently a co-owner and private practitioner at Elevated Counseling, PLLC in the Highlands area of Denver. Prior to training to become a therapist, Rich practiced as a mental health litigation attorney in New York City, where he first became passionate about the field. Rich draws on knowledge of law, philosophy and poetry, bringing a unique perspective to his sessions.
Rich’s current practice utilizes a client-centered approach, integrating Gestalt, existential and depth approaches. He focuses his practice trauma and anxiety-related issues, including PTSD, high-stress careers, life transitions and other major stressors. Rich’s first priority in counseling is to create a safe, non-judgmental space, where clients can feel comfortable sharing and processing their most difficult thoughts.