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The Crisis of Communication

Dec 7, 2017 Tony Hammack

The ‘art’ of communication has been something that has not evolved with 21st century man. Between the passive aggressiveness, cowardly anonymous commenting on platforms, and misleading clickbait articles that stir emotions for a third of a second, no wonder why men have forgotten to communicate. Instead of invoking the long-standing tradition in the United States to make our case known in eloquent soliloquy, the US has traded the speech for verbal assault.

Now, for many it may seem as if I am referencing the American President, Donald Trump. Does he participate in this system of poor communication? Yes. Is this article just about him? No.

For I believe what is reported on via the news agencies,Twitter, Facebook, etc. on President Trump is a microcosm of this issue in society. This article is not an attack on any one person, but to shed light on the issues in society. The topics and examples addressed are viewed in an objective manner and are not supporting or condemning a view.

“Communication is at the very core of our society. That's what makes us human.” Jan Koum

To start with how communication in society today is flawed, it is important to go back to what communication is. Communication is defined by Webster’s dictionary as: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. Let us focus on the word ‘exchanged.’ Exchanging information is a a two-way transfer.

Let us use the example of two co-workers working on the same project for their company. Each has different objectives to work on for this project, thus communication is paramount. The co-workers must be able to communicate on and off the building premises. Using email is an efficient and expedient way to conduct this transfer. However, in order to have each objective, concern, and question answered, each has to share their thoughts with their comrades and listen to feedback. From there, they have this cycle of sharing and listening, each one empowering the other, until both coworkers have a collaborative, harmonious plan of action for their project.

As you can see, true communication demands one to be open to hearing the other side. You cannot have communication without listening and sharing.

One of the reasons communication is a crisis in society is because people in society are unable to listen. Listening is more than hearing the audible words, it is understanding them in their context. Listening is the ability to understand what they are saying and seeing how they arrived to their opinion. Let me preface this by saying: listening to another does not imply you agree with them. Too often, I have people tell me how wrong I am for listening to a group and understanding where they are coming from.

Example:* My family is extremely conservative. Yet, on one occasion when we all met at my adoptive parents’ house, a conversation began about abortion and how people could ever do that. I politely stated that I have listened and understand the opposing liberal view. I was ridiculed on the spot for being a pro-choice sympathizer. I tried desperately to state that communication is a two-transfer problem. If the pro-life people want their views heard by the opposition, it is important and necessary for us to hear and understand the other side of the issue. In order for both camps to resolve this issue, they must each give ear and understand the opposition. Clear communication is a reciprocal process by both parties.

When we demand for communication to be a one-way process, the intent of our message gets lost. Instead of sharing, we are telling, sometimes aggressively, our point of view. In this way, we have lost the ability to mutually respect both parties for their beliefs and statements; we have lost the ability to find a compromise amidst our disagreements, and we have given up the ability to be teachable. What defines a man more than his dogma is his ability to be teachable. The Socratic Paradox explains teachability plainly: “The only thing I know, is that I know nothing.” When we open up to the possibility that our stance may be wrong, communication is less of a standoff and more of a coming together in search of the truth, regardless of ego.

The Information Age has affected communication more than any other human-to-human interaction. Many have said that the rise of the internet will make man more informed and connected. I believe the internet has failed in that regard.

The internet has succeeded in giving people the opportunity to become more informed and connected. From tiny Birmingham, AL in the United States I can read Al-Jazeera online and keep up to date with the Qatar standoff with Saudi Arabia. I can also read Reuters UK and trade European stocks. I also have the ability today to video call friends across the globe in New Zealand and Kenya. The internet does give us these amazing opportunities to stay informed and communicate with others over a large distance and increased expediency.

However, there are fundamental flaws in today’s virtual communication. The first is the flaw in the social contract between the readers and the news providers. We, as readers, expect the news agencies (big or small) to deliver us credible, substantial information in exchange for our viewership and/or subscription to their service.

Yet, many media news outlets employ catchy headlines with hollow stories so that people may click on their site. This practice is called clickbait. It has single handedly changed the way we consume news.

Stories that have more clicks or views are often placed to the top of our aggregated news and social media feeds. Although a valid business strategy to have your strongest content easily viewable, it also has been used to place flashy, controversial (sometimes false) headlines. For many readers, they see these headlines while scrolling through all the content and take them as truths without reading the actual article. Many can be easily tricked into believing these false headlines, thus a breach of the social contract between the people and the news outlets.

The other vital flaw in virtual communication is the cowardice of the disgruntled. These are the people who, when someone posts a view or opinion contrary to their own, do not engage in a proper dialogue and exchange of ideas to arrive at a mutual understanding but instead attack and demean the other. Essentially, this a form of cyber-bullying.

Let me clarify that disagreeing with others is perfectly natural; the probability of someone having the exact same views as you are virtually 0%. Each person has lived a unique life which has informed their personal views. The method of disagreement is the problem.

The vitriol of others opinions on online posts creates a toxic atmosphere for two main reasons.

Firstly, this begins a cycle of insults that results in both parties being hurt and unheard. Each insult wears away at the others self-esteem. If someone keeps telling you “You are a piece of %@#!” enough times, you tend to believe it. This creates a negative atmosphere that leads others to not contributing or to become the bully to avoid being bullied themselves.

Secondly, if communication is an exchange of ideas with sharing and listening cycles with the aim of coming to an understanding and seeking the truth, then this toxic online subculture breeds bigoted, one-sided posts with no one being allowed to challenge the opinion. The search for the truth is being derailed because someone has thin skin and issues of being wrong. Each person begins to think they are experts and the other is completely wrong. How will the truth be discovered in this sea of darkness?

Let me address the topic of ‘fake news.’ If you are the average American citizen that has eyes or ears and are of age to know that presidents are elected, know that President Trump talks about ‘fake news’ often. Now, there ‘fake news’ can mean three things. Firstly, it is news that one individual or entity does not like and is trying to discredit it. This happens all the time; however, with the digital age, there are more opportunities to hear news they do not like and more avenues to discredit or ignore them . Secondly, ‘fake news’ is just old fashioned disinformation. This is a tried and true method to create uncertainty. Militaries, governments, and corporations are the main culprits of this. With the rise of like-minded individuals joining together online into large groups and communities, disinformation can be caused by these so called special interest groups.

Example: A group of Marvel films fans can influence the public opinion on DC films through user ratings, false headlines, and exaggerated or misleading articles. (If you do not believe me, just do a quick google search. People are EXTREMELY passionate about superheroes!)

The third form of ‘fake news’ is just falsified news. However, this is the most unlikely due to basic journalistic integrity. Essentially, if it comes out that someone or their employer falsified news, they would be discredited and their company would lose a lot of revenue because readers would avoid their sites.

Economists model the economy with how they view each member of society as rational agents. Their predictions are based on each person making rational, logical choices in their consumption of goods, spending of money, and investment strategies. These models are inherently incorrect as man is an irrational thinker. We strive to attain reason; for in this post-modern age, reason trumps all.

We each do irrational things and not think twice about it. I have to have my food separated on my plate; if any member of the dish touches the other, I become uneasy. Another example is how I get bothered by not taking the sidewalk path. It takes a lot for me to cut through a patch of grass instead of using the sidewalk. Irrational I know, and I study math (extremely rational)!

This irrationality affects society. We each have different views and quirks that are unique to us. In order to live in a healthy society, we have to learn to get along with others and learn how to live with them. Communication is fundamental to the growth and sustainability of a society. Approaching every conversation with the goal to learn something new benefits us and society as a whole; we are leaving our egos at the door in the pursuit of truth. And in this digital age, having proper virtual communication can have far-ranging benefits in our local and global communities.

Communication is one of the basic human-to-human interactions which has become a skill of the past. The health of our society, well humanity, starts with correcting this crisis of communication.

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Yehunda Berg

*Note that this is a retelling of a story, not an indication or admittance of my beliefs or thoughts on the matter.

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