We live in a world that likes the phrase, “shut up.”
We like to tell the media to “shut up,” we like to tell politicians to “shut up” and we like to tell one another to “shut up.” When people point this out, we like to tell them to “shut up,” too.
The result is a handful of things you’ll always be allowed to say because they have passed through the bowels of public discourse so many times that they’ve been deemed harmless.
They are safe, widely accepted truths that are passed off as tidbits of savvy ingenuity. It is a sterilization of free speech.
The irony of the situation is that with everyone so concentrated on telling someone else to “shut up,” we are left with a lot of noise. When we see, for example, someone call out a public figure for his or her wrongdoing on social media, the person launching the attack is lauded.
Regardless of whether or not you think this is a problem, it absolutely adds fuel to the fire of the “shut up” game. In other words, instead of the objective being to right wrongs, the objective becomes, “voice loudly how you think this is wrong.”
As a result, we’re encouraged to attack anyone whose point of view is outside of what we deem acceptable.
For example, Donald Trump’s Twitter account is a breeding ground for all kinds of political attacks – both those attacking Trump as well as attacks Trump leads himself.
Regardless of your political affiliation or opinion of Donald Trump, do you believe challenging a public figure will really do anything other than get you a few retweets?
Certainly, social media is a valuable tool for activism and idea sharing, whether for a political stance or a fart joke. We all have the right to use the Internet however we choose, but it would be better for us all if benevolence started with the individual.
What's worse though, is how the “shut up” culture of the information age affects those who have not yet voiced their opinions. If you have an opinion and think it is important for others to hear it, the fear of being publicly shut down is very real.
The loudest voice isn’t necessarily the most valid, so if we reinforce the idea that yelling your opinion deserves to be rewarded, we are potentially depriving ourselves of creative solutions to the problems our generation faces.
Nuanced debate shouldn’t be a race to an “epic takedown fail.” Debate can and should exist inside of cooperation. This generation prides itself on being fluent in the culture of everything digital, but it will take action in the physical, real world to make the changes happen.
All we need to do is control how quickly we attack people with different opinions. I’m not suggesting that we delete the Internet (although, that’s fun to consider), but we need to coordinate our efforts better if we want healthier discourse.
It’s important to realize, too, that if you don’t have an opinion about something, you don’t need to create one.
Let your heart guide you toward what you care about deeply and then, go from there. The world is enough of a mess out there; some of it feels so far out of our control that voicing our opinions loudly can seem like the right thing, and sometimes, it is.
Though, more important than anything else is cooperation and human connection.
Try to replace your “shut up” with “I disagree.” What your grandma told you when you were a child is still important: Be nice to people, even if you disagree with them. We can be the generation that gets it right.