The following is a guest post from Josiah Cassellius, a Millennial writer and producer. --Jolene Erlacher
Humanity has always compartmentalized the different aspects of life; let’s call them our different faces for different occasions. This is the idea that we treat our mothers differently than we treat our fathers. We say things to our friends that our grandmother would chastise us for repeating to her. For most of us, only a handful of people ever get to see our vulnerable side. We are good at it, you see, very good at adapting to our surroundings. So good, it seems, that we have decided to enter ourselves into the next level of competition.
In the past we fragmented across our home lives, friendships, and work. Generally, it was a very small community, but that has changed. Today, thanks to technology, we interface with people everywhere, and the fragmentation of our identity has expanded. This reality can make it hard to prioritize our focus.
One could be forgiven for being uncertain in what order to place the dozens of fragments of our lives, it is, after all, a very complicated question. It used to go something like this: faith, family, friends, work, then everything else. Such a simple, yet elegant, system. Except that now work has been sub-divided even further for most, and friends and family are more spread out than ever.
In the midst of such fragmentation, we often resort to tribalization. It is a phenomenon that helped people survive harsh environments and threats. While it worked for hunter/gatherers, in an increasingly interconnected world, one that overwhelms us, it may not be effective. Much the same way that there is a sense of peace and security in our homes during a storm, we enter into our sacred bubble and push the world out, and when we do come out to see what is happening, it can seem like we are entering a war zone. The outrage, the accusations, the controversy we see around us all lead to alienation. We run to our tribe, what feels familiar and friendly, and we label anyone not in our bunker as the enemy and reconciliation becomes nearly impossible.
The reality, though, is that the circumstances do not merit such distress. People are becoming more self-aware as to biases and opinions that are destructive. However, we no longer sit down and read the news and digest and discuss it rationally with friends and family whom we trust. Instead, we read headlines and tweets and use them to reinforce our narratives and we scream out into the void, and if we are unfortunate enough to receive an answer that contradicts us, we lash out.
So, what can we do? When we read something online that we disagree with, we need to not assume ill-intent, that only breeds more anger. Give the benefit of the doubt to a person, and maybe we will see them, and their ideas, in a new light. A positive approach may even open the door for healthy dialogue. Let’s turn our online spaces into the homes and meeting-places of old, where we come together to express ideas, and to help each other understand the true meaning of what a community can be. Be open to hearing dissenting views, and be prepared to admit fault, and potentially, we may just escape unscathed.
As a toddler who is overwhelmed by emotions cries out in frustration, so also adults who are stretched too thin react poorly to push-back. When we feel ourselves becoming overwhelmed, we need to reconnect with our fragmented selves, identify what is truly important, and remember that reality is not online.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!