In the past few years, I’ve read a lot about how the proliferation of media – especially online – is balkanizing us. Instead of giving us access to more information and a broader range of perspectives, we are self-selecting sources of information and groups of people who mirror our already-held beliefs and values.
News of this disturbs me because I think one of the greatest strengths of globalization and the internet is their ability to break down barriers and make us more understanding of others’ concerns, feelings, values and perspectives. On an increasingly interconnected planet, we need to understand each other more, not less.
My experiences on Xanga have sometimes illustrated this balkanization: some people seem really unwilling to hear different perspectives and their responses are more defensive (or offensive, really!) than thoughtful, more attagonistic than trying to understand.
That’s why I want to acknowledge that in the entry I wrote two weeks ago about California’s proposition 8, in the midst of a lot of back and forth, there were several people who really rose above the fray and were able to disagree and debate ideas without resorting to insults and invectives.
Several people contacted me privately and had many encouraging words. Some of them agreed with my position that proposition 8 is wrong and should be defeated. Others disagreed with me but shared messages of respect and appreciation for the opportunity to have a dialogue on the issue. And others shared with me how their opinion had changed because of the opportunity to hear other perspectives. Here is one such message:
I have been thumbing through your site and am really blown away. My wife and I have never really given major thought to the whole gay marriage (sorry if that sounded so blunt). I do like to think that I am an open minded person, and my wife as well. She is a very religious person but day by day living here in California acceptance and new ideas are always around us, and in the same subject we asked ourselves tonight that if we were on y’alls end of the stick and someone told us that we could not get married even though we love each other, and ultimately it is an expression legally of how we feel about each other… I also have really been intrigued with a lot of your other writings and would like to add you as a friend. I wanted to send you this message to ask you if that would be alright, since I did come onto your site and threw a lot of bigotry out in the first couple of lines. I would like to apologize for not being open to the subject for debate from the get go, the proposition does not affect me or do me any harm, I know that you should be able to express yourself just as my wife and I do. Thank you for replying to my silly posts and I would love to hear more from you.
It take a mighty big person to be open to new ideas, to challenge his or her own beliefs, and to evolve his or her world view. Speaking from my own perspective, I know exactly how hard being open-minded is. Many times I fail despite my attempts. So I have tremendous respect for people who are big enough and confident enough to recognize the opportunity to learn and grow from others.
To all of you who participated in that discussion, or who have otherwise promoted civilized, thoughtful debate in the virtual and real worlds, thank you for your contribution to dialogue and understanding. And thank you for being a big person.