United we Hurt, Divided we Fall

United we Hurt, Divided we Fall

 “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”

Henry David Thoreau

It has taken me a few days to gather my thoughts in order to write something that wouldn’t look like an outpour of angry feelings. I needed to share the words embedded in my mind about how I feel, perhaps inspiring people to reflect in their own way, with their own words. 

I am a white woman in my early thirties. I live in a suburban city where most of my neighbors are middle-class working Americans, with impeccable looking front yards and flags hanging by their windows. In the 10 years that I have lived in the United States, a cop has stopped me only once. In that instance, I happened to be in a grocery store parking lot very late at night, needing to buy medication. The officer wanted to make sure that I felt safe coming out of the store by myself and waited until I sat in my car before wishing me a good night. I have rarely felt unsafe going out by myself. However the few times that I have, it had nothing to do with my race but rather with my gender. 

That’s my reality. That’s my PRIVILEDGED reality and maybe that’s yours too. I haven’t chosen this kind of life. In a lot of ways, I am extremely lucky and blessed to be carefree about my interactions in society. Although racism exists, I don’t remember ever experiencing it myself. I would be lying if I wrote that I think about it on a daily basis or that I’m a front line activist. The underlying reason is certainly my lack of direct exposure to it. I, as a white woman living in the United States, do not feel threatened because of the color of my skin. 

The last few years have been overwhelmingly eye opening for me. After each senseless act of racism that would cost someone’s life, I would be left questioning my role in society as a privileged person. It seems that communities have been fighting racism for hundreds of years yet the conflict is far from over. Is the problem so rooted that it can no longer be fixed? As I watch the news and read about the actions of hundreds of communities across the country, I realize an important reality: Being human comes with many responsibilities and protecting the ones in need is at the top of the list.  

If we consider ourselves privileged enough to be on Earth, then we all must act accordingly. We have a responsibility toward our fellow humans to be caring and respectful. After all, we all share the same space. I ignore the reason as to why my road was paved with fewer holes and rocks than those of colors. But in my privileged reality, I have to be responsible. It would be destructive to the human race if I weren’t. We cannot be white and believe that racism exists only far away from us. We can no longer witness it with binoculars from our porch and pretend that it doesn’t directly concern us. Racism affects all of humanity. As the importance of human connection has been the subject of abundant research, it becomes clearer that when a part of society is hurting, we are all hurting. When social or economical issues touch a part of the population, we all face difficulties moving forward. When egocentrism is more important than cultural diversity and community togetherness, love and care among individuals can’t reach its full potential. Consequently, we all hurt. 

Keeping this in mind, the time has come for us to reevaluate our involvement with racism. We are an embarrassing society if we can go to space but can’t listen to each other on Earth. It’s a shame to have a racist friend and be afraid to confront him about it because it could be uncomfortable for one or both parties. It’s a disgrace to join a march after a tragedy but remain neutral on a daily basis when the crowds are gone.

It is undeniable that we are all hurting one way or another. Whether it’s because of social injustice, the loss of a loved one to violence, fear of the future or inability to accurately put feelings into words, the situation can no longer be ignored. Regardless, this is not the time to have an individualistic mindset. This is not the time to take things personally in hopes that we can redirect the focus on something more comfortable. Truthfully, this is not the time to blame black people for violence, when we can barely address the violence used against them. 

This is all uncontestably very painful but it would be wrong to try to make ourselves feel better by saying things like “I’m not racist, I’m completely against violence no matter the race” or “it’s just a bunch of bad apples”, “all lives should matter equally.” I am sure that you have read some of these sentences online or heard them through friends or family. None of those are wrong, but when we use this sort of rhetoric, unconsciously or not, we run from responsibilities. We hide behind a passive approach that simply doesn’t bring change. In fact, we contribute to accepting and sharing the status quo.

Racism won’t be defeated passively. It will need activeefforts from all of us. That means if we are not racist, we need to educate someone who is. Good cops need to stand by their communities, and interact positively with the people who have become terrified of them. If we know or work with “bad apples”, we need to educate them and hold them accountable for their behavior. If we rightly believe that all lives matter, then we need to show it by standing next to the ones whose lives clearly haven’t mattered equally. We need to join local communities, interact with minorities, become their voice when they need one, vote even at the lowest levels, take part of the social justice reform, and understand the issues. The “It’s not me, it’s them” mentality doesn’t help because it doesn’t bring change. Instead, it contributes to the continuation of the problem. 

When Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “March on Washington” speech that “we cannot walk alone”, he explicitly acknowledged that white people are needed in the fight against racism because “their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.” Racism is an issue that needs to be fought by all men, for all of mankind.

Being white has never excluded us from the problem. It’s quite the opposite. The time has come to realize that we are as responsible as anyone else in planting seeds of love and care to preserve our communities. Without all of us working together, all lives can’t matter. 

Responsibility in the Age of Misinformation

Responsibility in the Age of Misinformation

“You may believe that you are responsible for what you do, but not for what you think. The truth is that you are responsible for what you think, because it is only at this level that you can exercise choice. What you do comes from what you think. ” 

Marianne Williamson

In the midst of a pandemic, we have the responsibility to prevent the spread of misinformation. As we all look for accuracy, the task appears more challenging with the ever-growing influence of dozens of online news outlets. Individuals turn to the web to get information faster, and understandably so, as they need the latest information about a pandemic that has changed life as we know it. A study by ComScore, a media measurement company,has recently shown that in the last 4 weeks, visits to online news outlets have risen by almost 60%. 

But news outlets are not the only websites sharing news. Besides helping people stay connected with friends and family, almost all social media platforms have permitted individuals like you and I to share news and questionably stay informed. In an age where information circulates nearly at the speed of light and where most people have the means to express themselves freely, accuracy has become secondary. Fake news spreading is contagious. It’s so infectious that researchers at Stanford engineering are studying strains of misleading information, the same way that they would a virus, so that they can “cut the transmission chains” (Elizabeth Paté-Cornell).

If it doesn’t make us physically ill (although it could potentially increase anxiety and depression), fake news changes the vision we have of our leaders, our communities and our environment. It changes our beliefs in fields that could impact us directly: from the development of vaccines, to educational programs and all the human rights that we might defend or instead, dispute.  

I won’t go in the details of how fake news are created and how they virtually spread so fast across the globe, as I’m not knowledgeable in the science behind it. There are plenty of studies available online that cover the topic. However, I want to share two points with all my mindful thinkers. 

Who is more likely to share fake news?

The short answer is everybody. We can all stumble upon an article, video or message that seems important or is stimulating enough that we feel the need to share it. But when we look more into it, based on a study conducted by Paté-Cornell and Trammell (Stanford University), some of us are more vulnerable than others. The younger, older and less educated population might share fake news more easily. Politically speaking, it seems that individuals who support parties with extreme ideologies, on either side of the spectrum, are more likely to believe and share inaccurate information.

The reason behind this is the effects of confirmation bias (term coined by P. Wason after running an experiment in which the participants preferred confirming results based on prior believes despite misinterpreting and/or falsifying other hypotheses). This is known as a cognitive bias. If I am shown a video discussing something that I already believe in, I will lean towards agreeing and sharing that information, no matter the level of its accuracy. In other words, the more extreme my views are on societal issues, the more likely I am prone to believe and share inaccurate information. 

What can I do about it?

We are responsible for everything we share online. The rule is simple: Just like we wouldn’t make every picture of us public, the same accountability applies towards the news we share. If you are like me and don’t understand every medical study coming out about covid-19, don’t share it. If an idea discussed in a video seems too real to not be shared, check the sources and the credentials of the person speaking. If a piece of information has millions of views, shares or likes, it doesn’t make it more reliable. It only means that there were that many people “infected” by potentially false information. If you have seen the same piece of information several times, from different sources (even influential ones), it doesn’t make it more reliable. However, it could make you more vulnerable to start sharing it as well. 

This can all seem overwhelming and difficult to manage on a personal level. In reality, it’s not. It requires us to be responsible for the way we act online toward spreading information and for some of us, to change the way we seek information. Let’s not be guided by intuitions or beliefs but by facts, numbers, and studies. We need to start accepting the fact that despite our perpetual quest for knowledge, some questions don’t have answers; some ideas are still works in progress, but ultimately, our reason, and ability to search and always question will allow us to move in the direction of progress. 

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