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How to Reduce Selective Outrage 

Listen, Read and Watch to the End

I watched a video of a controversial YouTube star a couple of years ago. It was a 3-minute snippet of him discussing a particular topic. As I listened to the video, I could feel myself getting annoyed with his tone and the words coming out of his mouth. It struck me at the time as disrespectful and rude. I clicked off the video at its completion, thinking the guy was just a jerk. However, a month later or so, I decided to give his videos another try. This time the video was one of his live conversations, which was over an hour long. During this episode, I listened to the full context of his dialogue, and I started to change my mind. Looking at a 3-minute video did not adequately put into context what he was trying to communicate. Once I saw the whole thing, I had to reconsider my beliefs.

           This story demonstrates my limitation in the thought process that most people also display. The ability of our minds to form an instant opinion without recognizing we are not taking in all the available information. Once that occurs, we state what we dislike about said person or topic and how wrong it is for this information to exist in the public square. At that point, we might even take steps to get the information removed or attack the topic in other ways. In this way, we are getting upset and creating more problems because we are unaware that this is all manifesting through us.

           The whole turmoil stems from our inability to perceive how selective we are in taking a piece of something and suggesting it is the whole. The late physicist David Bohm called this line of thinking fragmentation. For example, if you took an iPhone and smashed it into hundreds of pieces, you wouldn’t take one of those fractured pieces and then say, “this is the iPhone.” Taking one of those pieces and representing that as an independent functioning smartphone would be silly. Yet, that is precisely what we do every time we reduce a whole narrative to one or two lines or watch a 3-minute video of an hour-long conversation and say that was the entire dialogue.

           Think about all the conversations you had in your life with friends. Consider that during one of those chats, someone walked in on you midway through while you were making a point about something contentious, or you were joking around based on something said earlier. How easy would it be for that person to take that juncture of your conversation entirely out of context? At that point, they form an opinion of who you are, all based on that element of your discussion. None of us would view that as fair but truth be told, we have all probably been perpetrators and victims in this area at some point in our lives.

           It may be impossible to catch ourselves doing this during every discourse we have in our lives. However, one step we can practice is following things to the end. That means reading a book, watching an online video, or listening to our friends completely, not just to the point that they annoy us. It will take some patience, but it may reduce the conflicts in our lives and relationships. Listening to the end can at least give you a fuller idea of the argument and the ability to ask better follow-up questions to get a clear understanding. 

           It is also essential to state that this does not mean you condone hateful speech. If someone spews disrespectful or spiteful language, sticking around to the end is a waste of time. The issue is sensing the difference between hate and dialogue. If it is hate, the person already has their mind made up; if it is a dialogue, then we are both actively trying to find a solution. Honestly, in some cases, it is subjective, so maybe the best we can do to determine the difference is to take note and check on it later when we have more information. For instance, I might think the individual is a prick, but I keep that in mind and see if that is a valid viewpoint later on when I take in more data.

           Operating from the point of understanding the human tendency to make instant decisions allows us to delay judgment until we receive adequate information. Our society is being driven apart for many reasons; one significant factor is our inability to form a common meaning. Developing that requires a comprehension of our different viewpoints. That can only come if we listen to each other and then figure all that out together, so it’s a shared reality (or, as Bohm suggested, “a shared meaning”).

           Life is a short game and spending our time on frivolous matters is a waste. One way to mitigate losing hours to nonsense is sensing when we are the ones contributing to the chaos. Taking things out of context is something we all do regularly. I probably will do it ten times today alone. If I can reduce that number to five times a day by next year, I will consider it a success. The one step we all can apply is withholding judgment of material until we watch it to the end. Data is king. The more information we have, the better decisions we can make regarding a situation. Forming an opinion based on a minute amount of information only makes us more miserable. Why would any of us want to spend the few years we have on this planet in that manner?

Vertis Williams is a Positive Habits Life Coach and a Mindfulness Trainer. He is a regular presenter at employee and team-development events. Contact him to request more info on his Workshops or on his Coaching Services! Click HERE to Request a Complimentary Habit Coaching Session!

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