Being put into categories or “boxes” is a natural thing to do and everyone does it. In the age of social media, 24 news networks and the massive amount of information thrown at any one individual you can’t help but put people into these “boxes”. If you read or heard anything about the Dunbar number, you would understand why this can’t be avoided. You are put into a several boxes each day by a coworker, the individual serving you coffee, or the guy on the bus without even knowing it. In most cases, without saying a word to the person who puts you there. These “boxes” are absolutely necessary for your brain to handle all the inputs we get everyday.
Some types of “Boxes”
These “boxes” come in all shapes and sizes like real boxes. Conservative or Liberal, Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, Round Earth or Flat Earth, and so on. If you list your personal beliefs, you can probably put yourself in several “boxes” that you didn’t even realize you actually fit into. You might say “I didn’t fit into any of the traditional “boxes”, I am my own person, unique and above all this”. I believed that as well in my early 20’s, when I knew absolutely nothing about the world, like most people at that age. Some go their whole lives believing that, others search for answers. If you are reading this, congratulations, you are looking for answers.
Sound bites = “Boxes”
We live in a sound bite world that drives the internet, cable news, and our politics. Too few research a issue or even read a whole article about a topic, most believe the sound bites coming from their favorite source. These favorite sources don’t always agree, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. This past election was the an all-you-can-eat buffet of sound bites. The “boxes” were thrown all over and people being tossed into them at a record pace. Some of the greatest hits currently are “Women earn 77 cents for a Mans Dollar”, “We are the 99%”, “97% of all Sciences believe in Climate change and humans are the cause” and more. These hot topics this last political cycle are great examples of the “boxes” we are put into. No topic can be summed up with a sound bite, but we see crowds of people chanting them in every city more and more frequently.
Remember learning to ride a bike without training wheels for the first time? I do, the awkward feeling of pedaling combined with poor balance while fearing you were going to fall down. Remember how hard that was? Image how hard it would be if every meter someone reached out and nudged you in the shoulder or arm? These conversations about social issues are like learning to ride that bike and the sound bites are the nudges while trying to pedal without falling. How long would it take you to learn how to ride a bike that way? Do you think you would even get past your house without falling?
Take the “Women earn 77 cents for a Mans Dollar” sound bite as an example, which is the gender wage gap issue. Most everyone heard and/or has an opinion on this issue. That sound bite does stir an emotional response in most people, which is why its used. This sound bites heard over and over again amplifies the feelings associated with it. Whichever side you fall on, drilling that small piece of information into your mind can push people to extremes. Say you believe that the sound bite is 100% fact. When someone questions the legitimism of that belief, it triggers a response. You defend it but without knowing the research behind it you are ill equipped to use facts. All you have is your sound bite and feelings. So you use the one weapon you have available, attack the person who is darning to question your belief. You labeled the person as idiot who hates women and put that person in the “misogynist box”. Right away, the conversation has broken down and has become hostile. You have become a warrior in the “77 cent/Dollar” tribe who is at war with all people who are not in that tribe. You can’t look at that person as an individual, just as someone who fits into that “box” you created. As much as we want to take feeling out of these issues, we can’t. When the feeling become so ramped up they get in the way of solving real problems and prevents the much needed open dialog between people on either side any issue.
The Next Step, How to get out these “boxes”?
Our next step is to talk, #TeachTheControversy and #CreateTheControversy were created just for that. You can discuss a issue, present facts and make a choice of what you feel is the correct stance. I do guarantee that after a REAL discussion with REAL facts and you will find the REAL “box” you fit into is a percentage of both sides.
Things to remember
- What is the real issue being discussed and how it makes you and others feel?
- Where did the numbers or statistics come from?
- Who is pushing the sound bite?
- Numbers don’t lie, but they can be manipulated.
- The contexts of a statement is as important as the statement itself.
- All things are not equal. That includes research papers, expert opinions, and especially the talking heads on the cable news!
Don’t forget the most important thing. These issue have feeling attached to them and you will never be able to detach them. You need to respect how the person feels any time you discuss an issue. If you don’t, you will end up another member of the crowd chanting sound bites to another crowd doing the same. As a community, we can move above the shouting and unpack “boxes”, instead of putting people in them.