After the March: Let’s Disagree to Agree

Today’s technology enables us to share our reactions to major events on a public platform with zero barrier to entry. The most recent major event occurred last Saturday, when the United States witnessed the largest ever organized protest on American soil. The national conversation unfolded between those who marched and those who didn’t.

In the hours after, I picked up on a popular article written by a woman named “Christy.” Christy was bothered by social media posts from marchers, specifically those who wrote that they “marched for her.” She did not agree with the perspectives they shared on their personal social media accounts. Christy wrote an article in response that gained traction with anti-marchers and spread through social media.

No matter the topic, Christy’s article is a prime example of the destructive way we disagree with each other on the internet. It’s unnerving that her piece, choked by hypocrisy, void of fact, and most disturbing – ill-intentioned, became the marching orders for non-marchers.

The piece falls within a massive body of recreational writing on the internet guilty of criticizing for the sake of criticizing. Christy’s article and others like it fail at substance, and excel at airing grievances. Opinions masquerade as facts, and the reader is left without a constructive call to action. Venting might offer temporary catharsis, but what does it accomplish for people on either side? Does it move the conversation forward or leave us running in circles?

Here are two excerpts from the article in bold:

“Way to be open. Way to be accepting. Way to NOT represent all women.”

 The Mission & Vision page on the Women’s March website outlines the purpose of the march. Noticeably absent is the claim that the march intended to represent every woman. The women posting that they “marched for her” were not referring to Christy, because Christy does not share their beliefs.

Women marched for those who could not march, but would have and wanted to. Christy chose to write a mean-spirited article about a cause that arguably had nothing to do with her, which ironically is the exact point she makes in her article. If you disagree with something and choose to share why, strive to rise above the internet noise and teach us something.

“Marching and chanting isn’t going to do a damn thing.”

Organized protests are a hallmark of the American government, and marching has played a significant role in shaping laws and policies. No citizen is required to participate in a protest, but it is a privilege to have the choice.

Later on in the article, Christy echoes the views of another woman who criticized those participating in Saturday’s march for not speaking out against other injustices such as the infanticide of baby girls in China and India, unequal rights in Afghanistan, and rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This type of argument reminds me of a story I once heard a priest share at an event in downtown Chicago. He had been assigned to serve in a parish located in a rundown neighborhood in west Chicago. His mission was to help restore the neighborhood through clean-up initiatives, assisting residents with maintaining their homes, and promoting a culture of pride in the care of the community. The assignment was a full-time position.

One evening while giving a talk in a different part of the city, a guest asked this priest why he didn’t do more for the people in the neighborhood where he was speaking. The priest responded that his current assignment was to restore a community on the west side, but that he would help others in this man’s neighborhood mobilize their own efforts.

We can exhaust ourselves on arguing over what others should do with their resources, but it’s our own two hands and two feet we control. As an alternative to writing about what the marchers should have done, I encourage Christy to get involved in a cause that moves her.

A Contradictory Culture

In other corners of the national conversation, marchers, millennials, pro-Trumpers and anti-Trumpers are accused of acting like victims, whining, and expecting handouts from the government. Because these labels, and all others like them, are used to hurt, how much different are we than the bullies on the playground for whom we claim to have zero tolerance? Our society fixates on being kind and non-judgmental, but a hidden danger exists in spreading “thought pieces” rooted in anger and ill-intent that teach us nothing substantive about the other side. They fuel the darkest and most distracting emotions we have around a particular topic.

The internet gives us a macro sense of the world. We see every person and issue from 30,000 feet, and risk entering into conversations with a compromised sense of empathy because other than a profile picture, the people we argue with don’t have tangible human characteristics. We are bold in our assertions and assumptions of others. I think it’s okay to admit that sometimes we just don’t know enough to have a constructive opinion.

Next time we find ourselves tangled in a difference of opinion, can we critique instead of criticize? If we disagree, but hold to the intention of making both sides better, the conversation will not read like Christy’s article.

Let’s raise the standards on the content we choose to propagate. The internet community would benefit if we expressed fewer thoughts written in a fit of rage, and more that are written with good intentions and an underlying spirit of progress that challenge our views through well-informed perspectives.

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