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  • Writer's pictureMarkdavin Obenza

Fighting Intolerance with Conversation

The mission at hand is to defeat COVID. I get it. We are glued to our screens—checking the latest infection rates, vaccine availability, new strains—our lives are on hold until we beat this thing. I am in full support of the effort, but there is something I feel we’ve lost during this battle, something that I worry we may not recover from—a growing intolerance of others who hold different views.

Stay at home orders have turned our world into a two-dimensional reality. It’s tearing us apart right through the screens we stare at all day, screens that are successfully exploiting a vulnerability in the brain that brings out our worst. We now spend our time fighting enemies, real or imagined, and it is on full display and contributing to our social unrest. The lines of this division seem to be drawn darker with every needless tragedy we endure in this pandemic.

It is easy to underestimate the value of human interaction in three-dimensional space. The warmth of an unmasked smile, the comfort of a full-on hug, the meaning derived from our work and sense of duty, the fulfillment from a smooth in-person conversation, the feeling of community through experiencing art, music, worship and sports together, and the healing properties of point-blank range bellowing laughter. We give face to each other which allows us to get along no matter what we individually believe. In fact, who we are in these interactions are foreground and our personal beliefs become background.

One thing that makes it hard to remain friends with those we disagree with is our personal identification with our own ideas. The ideas we hold are so entangled with our sense of self and being challenged to defend them can feel like an attack. It effectively disables our ability to come at hard conversations with a healthy dose of dispassion— the very thing that can inoculate us from divisions born of disagreement. I have always had faith that good conversation was possible on social media, but lately the medium has poisoned both professional and personal relationships, so here I am, on this blog, trying to keep the conversation going. After all, conversation is the only peaceful method we have to change minds. It’s either conversation or violence.

In this digital world, what feels most important to others is our political and cultural alignment—what team we are on—and the stakes feel high. Expressing an opinion that does not perfectly align with your digital community can be dramatic and consequential. As we have seen too many times, the internet is both a powerful tool for sending one to fame or to defamation, and saying the wrong thing can be a career-ending mistake, especially in the arts where branding and reputation are everything.

Perhaps our ability to organize online and thoroughly destroy reputations is a good thing. We can push out the bad actors as we see them. The problem is, unlike the movies, we do not live in a world with a clear demarcation on what is ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and these career-ending efforts do not come from a place of compassion, with a spirit of fairness, or with the charity of good intention. I see them coming from a place of revenge.

It is in the spirit of open conversation that I am starting this blog. Not only as an act against the pressure to conform to the uncompromising views I see my community increasingly espousing, but also to talk about the cultural issues facing us today. I feel conversation is the only way forward to fighting ideological intolerance and you are welcome to join me here in this effort.

I cannot do this on facebook anymore, so I hope you will let me do it here.


“You disagree? Still love you.”

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