Every once in a while, a controversy washes up our shores and we take positions on opposite sides of the fence. A minister said this, a celebrity said that. A film depicts this, a book quotes that. A news anchor tweeted this, a politician tweeted that. Whether it is a socio- political debate or a controversial comment - social media discourse ensures that there is little space for nuance.
Soon the prickly discourse boils down to ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’. More often than not, our response is not for other people or their logic, but for their political affiliations. Since we are more vicious and angry in the virtual realm, we want our opponents to shut-up and disappear.
And suddenly the idea that there can be two sides to a story seems far-fetched, too complicated to be true. What opinion, after all, holds true if it does not have roots in a rigid belief? What argument makes sense if it finds some merit in a dissenting voice?
This mocking the ‘other side’ is a worldwide phenomenon ranging from Trump versus Hillary to Salman versus Shah Rukh. The outright rejection of those who don’t feel the same way as we do is reflected in reactions when friends respond with, “How could you? Never imagined you were his fan?” Which essentially translates to, “How can you like someone I don’t?”
Given that Twitter trends decide the national narrative and vice versa, the news anchors too have fallen for the ‘either-or’ trap. If one pompous anchor invites a dozen odd panelists and begins his show with a pre-conceived notion that he is always right, the other is unwilling to engage with those who disagree. If one reduces nationalism to shouting over neighboring guests, the other eulogizes separatists by sympathizing with anti-national voices. If one is ordained by the TRP compulsions to be always right, the other is a member of a powerful cozy club.
What if I don’t agree with both?
Vinod Mehta, the Outlook editor hit the nail when he wrote, “A television anchor’s nightmare guest is one who takes, ‘on the other hand’ kind of positions. Complexity, subtlety, an effort to explore grey areas is positively discouraged. If you recommend street hangings and public floggings you are likely to do well on television.”
With shortened attention spans, one hundred and forty characters set the agenda. While brevity has advantages, it does little to address complex issues. Besides, it’s so much fun to mock 'them'. Paint them all with one brush. All Sanghis are illiterate abusers. All Liberals are pseudo-sickulars. All Pakistanis are evil. All journalists are presstitues. The pot-shots minus Marijuana add kick to our everyday mundane niceties. Wicked is fun, abuse liberating. Politeness is pretense, civility weakness.
The question is: Why have we become so opinionated and polarized about simple issues such as an advertisement, a campaign, an opinion or a silly comment?
Let’s for a moment refuse to take a strong judgmental stance and meekly resign to an acceptance that everyone is entitled to their views. Wouldn’t it be a lazy acceptance of live and let live? Worse, our restrained stand could embolden extreme voices, shoving the already shrinking moderate voices down the silent valley?
On the other hand, what if we continue to call our opponents ‘stupid’ and refuse to engage with ‘them’? Wouldn’t our refusal to engage with 'them' push them away? Shouldn’t this refusal be seen as intellectual smugness to get to know the ‘other side’? Isn’t this refusal the very thing we rage against the ‘other side’?
There are no easy answers. For one, engaging with rigid minds requires patience. And ours is a generation that sees little merit in delayed answers.Who has the patience for a contextual explanation? What’s reassuring is that most issues that get us riled up on social media have little to do with our everyday lives. Who mocked our sportsmen or our hero are not the issues that really matter. Also because when we meet a flesh and blood person, we respect the boundary of ‘agreeing to disagree’.
So who am I if I take an ‘on the other hand’ stance instead of a blanket Yes or No? Who am I, if I’m mostly conservative, oftentimes moderate but occasionally liberal? Confused? No. While I have a stand, I’m willing to listen and reflect. I am willing to leave a small window for the thought that the ‘other side’ could possibly have some merit in their opinion. Can you?
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