We live in an amazing time where information is shared at lightning speed and millions of everyday people have platforms to share their stories. We are more connected to and informed by each other than we ever have been, and that’s pretty great.
But just like anything else, there’s a downside.
Because we can share information quickly and easily, there’s also a lot of misinformation floating around. People are sharing, which is good, but they’re sharing a lot of uninformed opinions, which sadly is not so good. It’s getting more difficult to discern whose thoughts you should listen to and whose you should discard as biased and missing key facts when forming their perspective.
I’ve noticed that there’s one major problem that so many people are falling victim to.
We’re refusing to admit what we don’t know.
Have you been on Twitter dot com? Number one Twitter rule: do NOT read the mentions. Follow who you want, but do not under any circumstances click that little bubble that will lead you to all the comments on a particular tweet. It’s a dark spiral of negativity and people just being downright mean. There’s also a whole lot of wrong going on. Not only are there comments that are super disrespectful and nothing you’d ever actually say to someone’s face, but they’re also uninformed and incorrect. And yet, people are all over Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and whatever other social media platform is cool these days opining on every issue under the sun whether they actually know what they’re talking about or not.
The short answer is, I don’t know (see what I did there?). Everyone’s reasoning and motivation is different, so it would be unfair of me to start spewing all of these potential reasons why people are adamantly (and often rudely) sharing information and opinions that they don’t actually know much about. Ironically, I’m more qualified to do this than most people on the Internet, but I still won’t!
But to some extent, I think it’s because they can.
It’s easy. Social media and sites like Medium, for example, have made it so easy for people to have a platform to say whatever they want, whenever they want. We (and by we I mean humans) like to be heard. We like when people agree with us and give us high fives for saying or doing something good. The sites, despite the hatred I mentioned in the Twitter comments, are a low barrier way to get that validation. As wrong as you might be, you can probably find someone to agree with you and tell you that you’re doing a great job. Who doesn’t want to hear that?
But it’s a problem.
When we think we know everything, we don’t learn anything. Why ask questions or do a deep dive of research if we think we already know? You can’t become more informed and expand your knowledge base, not to mention develop an understanding and compassion for someone else’s experience, if you’re coming in with the idea that you already know everything there is to know. It’s not good. No one grows that way, and we can’t connect and work together if we have that mindset. Learning new information and being open to sharing ideas is good for our well being. It can reduce our stress and anxiety, keeps our brains sharp, and helps us feel connected to each other. It’s a GOOD thing, so why are we avoiding it?
On top of that, if we’re sharing information that actually isn’t true in a public space, someone is probably listening. They might then resonate with your perspective and share it with someone else. Then they might share it with yet another someone else, and so on and so forth. This is how we get into a place where people are drinking bleach and some of us actually believe that weird pizza shop kidnapping rumor involving Hillary Clinton.
It’s okay if you don’t know.
There’s nothing wrong with saying the magic phrase “I don’t know enough about that to have an opinion”. Any time I hear something say anything close to that, I want to give them a hug (virtual, I know, social distancing!). It’s so rare, helpful, compassionate, and mature. I love it, and it sadly doesn’t happen that often.
Let’s make it happen MORE. Know what you don’t know, and ask questions if you want to know. If you don’t, that’s okay too! But then just exit the conversation. You don’t have to have an opinion on everything. That actually sounds really exhausting. Bow out of debates and the back and forths on topics that you aren’t really invested in. You can hop back in on the topics that you are informed on and/or have some personal experience in. But if you don’t know, let the people who DO know lead the way. Instead of talking, try just listening.