Communicating in a Time of Pandemics

how can we talk to one another about the serious issues when we can’t even be in the same room?

Communicating in a Time of Pandemics
Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

how can we talk to one another about the serious issues when we can’t even be in the same room?

There are few things more important in a relationship than good communication, whether that relationship be with a friend, partner, family member, or stranger on the internet. Right now, as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, many people are turning toward the internet for their primary social connections, maintaining their sense of companionship through electronic means.

And, meanwhile, as we scrabble along toward a terrifying 2020 election season, the rallies and crowd-based movements which have proven so effective at mobilizing support for various political campaigns are suddenly moot. This is incredibly dangerous for our democracy, as it reduces the power that the ordinary people have to get out and make their voices heard. It leaves centrists like Joe Biden free to sit back and bask in the endless adoration of the media titans, and it leaves Donald Trump free to gesticulate unencumbered in press briefing after press briefing (while trained medical professionals face-palm).

What is left? Understanding the ways people communicate has long been a hobby of mine, and I have diligently attempted to improve my communication skills over the years. I’ve written about communication before but the situation we find ourselves in today is somewhat different than the norm. Suddenly, everyone is online, and the internet has become the last bastion for a unified front of progressive ideals. And so, I want to dive deeper into a specific aspect of communication.

Focus on the belief, not the believer

I, personally, can’t get behind 99% of Republican talking points. I can’t even get behind more than %10 of centrist Democrat talking points. My Twitter feed attests to this. And yet, when confronted by people who believe differently than me, I recognize that I have a choice.

I’ve written before that someone’s mind is unlikely to be changed through an online conversation alone. That said, since the internet is now the main mode of communication we all have, it’s vital to find ways to make shifts happen. one way to do it, I believe, is to keep focused on the message, not the messenger. This can be difficult when the messenger is acting rudely or is clearly just as committed to their perspective as you are to yours.

When confronted by someone who is articulate, or even someone who is simply committed to a cause, we can sometimes wish to cut our losses and “agree to disagree.” The problem with this approach is that it ultimately solves nothing. Remember, evil prospers when good people say nothing. The whole fight doesn’t rest on our shoulders, and we must be self-compassionate, but we also need to stand up and do our part when we have that capacity. As such, we’ll sometimes need to engage with people who we dislike and who hold vastly different views than us. In order engage, however, we must first disengage from the idea of “them” as an enemy. The belief system they hold, the patterns of thought that rule their lives, the memes that they trumpet: these are the enemies. Focusing on the belief is the only way forward when tough communication arises; we need to calmly and rationally approach the topics, while remaining compassionate toward the person.

Think of it this way: beliefs are a little like gut bacteria. Some are beneficial to the whole organism while some (such as E. coli) are not. Some ideas (democratic socialism, mutual support, love thy neighbor) are beneficial. Others (unrestricted capitalism, stock markets, gun rights) are not. We would not view someone suffering from a harmful gut parasite as a “bad person,” merely as a victim. The same is true for beliefs.

If we can learn to approach people on the internet in this way, we can learn to depersonalize the experience, and thereby remove some of the emotional impact of these tense encounters.

But why? Why attempt to connect with people who believe completely opposite things from us? Well, for two reasons: one, communication is good. Fundamentally, even if it’s with someone who is spouting awful trash, simply opening that line of dialogue is important. But, primarily, it’s important for the people in the sidelines. On the internet, everything is seen. Every time someone stands up and speaks out against people like Mitch McConnell, thousands of people see that defiance. It inspires, and it also helps people who are unaware or uncertain into the discussion — it gives them access to a point of view other than what the other person is saying.

Photo by Julia Solonina on Unsplash

A final note

Self-care is the most vital thing.

While I do believe that it’s vital to engage, to “speak truth to power” I also believe that we all deserve to take our immediate needs into consideration. I choose which battles to fight — which times to speak out. I get a lot of people commenting on posts I make, or on articles I write. These people are not always nice. Sometime’s they’re crazy, sometimes they’re mean. These people, I block. No hesitation, no discussion, no second-chance. It’s a first-strike policy, and I maintain it because I do no have the mental or spiritual capacity to deal with awful people.

And, at the same time, I keep writing articles. I keep posting comments. I try to be respectful when responding directly (though on Twitter I am more prone to raging openly about the awfulness of Republican policies, beliefs, and figureheads). It’s a balancing act, one I’ve had to train myself to get good at.

Why do I do it? Because I believe our world’s worth it. Because, for all the people out there who do terrible things, there are more who do good. Because this is the only planet we have, and I love it — I love our natural world and I want to see it thrive (and I want to enjoy a long life in which to see it thrive). Because I believe that suffering should be mitigated where possible. Because I feel better when I know I’m doing my part to be a rational human being standing up for others. Because I believe in self-betterment, and in a world where self-betterment is the driving force in all of our lives (and where profit-motivations are a distant relic of a barbaric past).

Speaking up is worth it to me. I hope it is to you, as well.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider becoming a paid subscriber for as little as $2.50 a month!

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