Looking back on the last 12 months is more than a little unnerving. At least for those of us who believe that words matter, and that collaboration and collective endeavor are our best way forward in a hazardous world. We saw jaw-dropping language and careless tactics in 2017, and perhaps the greatest risk we face is that this style of communication and behavior becomes normalized.
Research documents people’s increasing isolation as “fake communication” replaces real conversation, relationship-building and problem-solving. Diatribes, impulsive tweets and Facebook rants are increasingly undermining community and international solidarity. Social media has spawned a world where more and more people believe they are immunized from the consequences of their words and behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Twelve months ago, it was incomprehensible that heads of state would be (in 280 characters or less) comparing the size of their nuclear “button” on the world stage. A year ago, we would have never countenanced blaming both sides for the violence unleashed at a white supremacist rally. In January of 2017, who could have imagined our UN Ambassador threatening to “take names” if that august body did not rubberstamp a US president’s decision. On what planet would it be deemed appropriate to refer to immigrants from sh**hole countries? Yet here we are.
Our words matter. Our behavior matters. In just one year’s time, significant damage has been done through impulsive, careless responses to an ever-more frightening world. We have damaged communities, institutions, political bodies and international alliances.
What is the best antidote? Find your voice. Do not sit on the sidelines. At this juncture, we cannot afford to simply wait and see if others will do it for us. Each of us must find a way to make ourselves heard, in ways that promote honest dialogue, respectful disagreement and most importantly, a will to move forward in a constructive way. For if we do not, the rapidly escalating ugliness in our daily discourse will eventually drown out everything else.
Effective communication takes work. It isn’t one-way blurting to the world at large. It requires investing time, thoughtfully articulating ideas and patiently listening to the other side. That is how relationships are forged, communities are built, and nations sort out differences. It is hard work, but in today’s world, critically important.
We need every constructive voice to turn back the surging cacophony. Think about what matters to you, your family and your community. This is not a time to assume someone else will do the talking. If you want politics that are less divisive, an environment that is cleaner, streets that are safer and to continue to enjoy those liberties earned by the blood of previous generations – your voice matters. If anything, 2017 taught us how very fragile our way of life is, and how important it is to speak up about what we hold dear.
Do not let this noise become the new normal. Find your voice and use it. It’s never been needed more.