Divisions in our society feel as if they have never been so big. Seismic changes in our political landscape are drawing up fault lines between communities that had tolerated each other in the past. Bigotry has been given legitimacy by politicians seeking to advance their own political ambitions. A license has been granted to those who hold abhorrent views to now publicly proclaim them.
The tone of discourse has become nasty and bitter. Antagonisms have been exposed and are taking full advantage of all the available social media outlets to vent themselves.
One effect of this is that people retreat further into their small, safe communities. It’s like going back to the cave, or hiding under the duvet. We need to be around people like us, who we trust, who we know, who we agree with.
I recognise this urge and I succumb to it as well. But I am fearful about what it is doing to us.
When we live in a bubble, sooner or later we run out of air. We need to have the debate; we need to engage; we need to embrace diversity. We are richer, and healthier when we recognise our shared humanity whilst celebrating our many differences. Collaboration is our oxygen.
But that does not mean we have to accept hate.
The current rhetoric, fuelled by anger, is often antagonistic, patronising and offensive. It is filled with accusation, threat and aggression. It’s like this because we’re not talking to each other: we’re talking at each other. If anything, we’re pushing both sides further and further away from any realistic chance of discourse and being heard. We are building trenches.
Maybe we do need to go onto the attack in order to defend ourselves. And maybe we do need to retreat sometimes to the comfort and safety of people who care for us. Bubbles can be fun. But a third option must remain for us to devote some of our energy to stimulating respectful debate with those we currently disagree with. Otherwise, that bubble will eventually burst.