As I browse through my social media feeds, my community is so often split down the middle. I see “conservative” posts from extended family afraid of moral decline. And I see “liberal” posts from friends, colleagues, and former classmates, angry about injustice and abuse of power. Occasionally, these threads cross when an argument breaks out and the insults and indignation begin.
The oppositional mindset that gives rise to this in-fighting is reinforced by the click bait ads in the margins, like this recent one: “Carly Fiorina Destroys The Women Of ‘The View.’” This is where we are.
We so often we get trapped in this framework of oppositional thinking. Even social marketing experts talk about finding your tribe to be effective on social media. We engage in this tribal thinking online in particular, finding people with similar values, and then finding opposing points of view to rail against, to be offended by, to seek to destroy. By interacting with people in print, the whole engagement takes place through abstract categories, not human interaction. It lacks the subtlety of tone, of vocal inflection, and nuanced gesture. It lacks humanity.
We tend frame things dualistically. That is, we take an issue and divide in two general categories. Republican, Democrat. Liberal, Conservative. Gay, Straight. Pro-Life, Pro-Choice. We see the world through these lenses, both ourselves and others. Then we identify the other with their category first and foremost, reducing them to an abstraction, denying them their full humanity on the conceptual level.
They’re either with us or against us. We dehumanize them in our minds, with our labels in place and at the ready. This is the seed of violence.
It is quite literally the case that our ego extensions, our avatars, are interacting with each other. Our common humanity is corroded in the process. The opposite of this is communion. It’s an offer and a reminder to connect on the level of profound woundedness, which we all share in one form or another.
Through this connection, transformation can take place. But we tend to put our values, ideologies, tribes, and our egos in the foreground, and filter other people through these reductionist lenses.
We become addicted to this level of thinking that can provide us with a sense of safety from ego threats, affection from the like-minded, and power over others. As Richard Rohr puts it “The primary addiction for all humans is addiction to our own way of thinking.”
And so our minds keep us in a trap. These mechanisms underlie our devolving political discourse, too, of course. But it’s in pointing beyond the entrenched positions, in finding a transcendence to pursue that we can move through the addiction.
The more we attack, the more the entrenched in their point of view our enemies become. The more their identity becomes consolidated. What we fight against, we feed. That’s the paradox, the vicious circle of violence that we can’t get out of on the level of mind, of thinking alone. As Carl Jung said, “what we resist, persists.”
Our headline copy taps into this energy. By using key words like blast, destroy, and annihilate, copywriters feed this opposition. When we click on these articles, if we agree with the antagonist, we get a little ego hit. When we disagree, we’re offended and construct our mental counterarguments. Either way, there’s an emotional response. That’s how we stay trapped at the level of mind and of language.
So here are a few guidelines I’ve set for myself as I go about maintaining an internet presence:
- Be encouraging: I don’t post or share anything that is intended to demean, belittle, offend, or make one group appear superior over another.
- Be inspiring: I won’t post or share anything that is likely to elicit negative emotional responses, like fear or violence.
- Be healthy: I won’t share or post anything that would hinder someone moving toward wholeness.
- Be unifying: I won’t share or post anything that is oppositional and wants to attack another point of view.
- Be focused: I will share and post things that help others stay oriented toward a greater wholeness.
A Statement of Purpose
What can help here is a positive statement of purpose to serve as an organizing principle. What are we for? What can we celebrate? Here’s mine: “to help others move toward wholeness, vitality, and freedom by processing their inner wound, identifying their inner strength, and experiencing the inner mystery.”
This is not to say that there aren’t situations where it’s right to speak out in opposition. But this is occasional, situational, and solution-oriented, or as I put it, moving toward wholeness. Once we’ve seen our own wound and our own ego mechanisms, we tend not to be so judgmental of others. But we can identify unconscious ego patterns of people and organizations that perpetuate unnecessary suffering.
Engaging in a contemplative practice like Centering Prayer on a daily basis puts our own ego-generated thought patterns in front of us every day. Increased humility is a natural consequence. This is great practice for seeing the world around us through the eyes of grace.
As Thomas Keating puts it, we recognize we are capable of every evil. And we recognize where that evil comes from. Unconscious fear from buried wounds leads to unskillful behavior and perpetuated suffering.
That’s the subtle power of the contemplative life. Taking a break from thinking and ego, we allow for an inflow of humanity beyond the structures our mind has created, beyond the categories and boxes we put them in. This is why the moral hand-wringing and labeling and judging in so many religious circles is troubling. We still can’t see people through our distorted ego lenses.
And, as Anthony De Mello asks, “if you can’t see someone, how can you truly love them?”