While we all know the dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to, we still talk about putting in our “2 cents worth” when expressing an opinion as if our opinions have not also been devalued. The complete absorption of culture by social media has relativized expertise and blurred the line between knowledge and opinion. Online comments have deteriorated into an endless and futile back and forth of conflicting opinions that contain little incentive for civility, mutual respect, or acting in good faith. Like most people, I find Facebook arguments completely pointless and depressing. Social media encourages disembodied content and turns everyone into an avatar for positions to embrace or disdain. The only real conversations are embodied, relational, and mutually accountable. Online conversations are disembodied and sham conversations masquerading as something important. I am not naïve of course. These sham conversations aren’t going away any time soon. So, since we can’t avoid the virtual, I propose that instead of slinging accusations and arguing over “facts” we try to engage people with the following kinds of questions:
- Do you believe people are fundamentally weak or strong and why?
- Do you believe people are fundamentally good or bad and why?
- Do you believe people can change?
- What is your commitment to other people’s justice?
- How good are you at accepting information that makes you uncomfortable, fearful, or angry?
- How might your passionate championing of an ideal prevent any progress toward accomplishing at least some of that ideal?
- How important is being right and how important is being in relationship?
- Would people who are different from you recognize kindness in your face?
- Do you think that individual lives have a purpose? What about humanity?
- How frightened are you of being vulnerable in public?
These are imperfect questions. Do not let their phrasing lead you to assume that you know how I would answer them. Come up with your own. My goal in presenting them is to somehow get us to the more important conversations. I am skeptical about their usefulness, but keeping them in mind may help me not get drawn into the Sisyphean task of converting people to my way of thinking through phony conversations.