The Messages That We Send

I believe that the topic of messages sent is a very important thing to talk about, especially in a divided society full of protests, talk shows, and social media discussions. Messages have the potential to be misunderstood, misinterpreted, misrepresented, taken out of context, and downright twisted against you. It can be ignored, laughed at, criticized and shot down.  But it can also stir up movements, riots, wars, arguments, death, and life.

The problem with messages is that it contains both rational and emotional elements. Rational thinkers tend to strip emotion away from a message and simply look at the logical implications of such messages. Emotional feelers tend to ignore the reason and logic behind the message and simply look at the emotional implications of the act or words. Granted these are two extreme spectrums, but we all fall somewhere within it.

Moreover, there’s a divide between the fields of rationality and emotions. Let’s talk about emotions first. People can feel differently about people, food, movies, books, relationships, pets, and almost anything under the sun. You wouldn’t call someone wrong for liking a movie you don’t like. Instead, you may say that they have a bad taste in movies, but that would simply be your opinion. You can be on team red, blue, or yellow on Pokemon Go, but neither one is inherently right.  The “better” team is based on personal preference or socially created ideas.

For rationality, we tend to want to remove these opinions and emotions from our arguments. However, I will argue that this is much easier said than done. David Hume, a 17th-century empiricist philosopher, argued that “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” In other words, we cannot separate our rational thinking from our passions (or emotions) because passions necessitate our reason.

I am an example of this. I tend to pride myself on logical arguments and thinking. Premise A, B, and C give this conclusion so this proves I’m right! However, many times I have been humbled to see that my emotions tend to cause me to ignore or quickly dismiss other premises. I catch myself defending my side through a strong confirmation bias, rather than fully considering both sides. I’m already emotionally attached to one side of the argument, so my rational side is influenced by this feeling as I defend myself.

For example, I think Kobe Bryant is the greatest basketball player of all time. I will argue it based off his stats, championships, and the legacy he left behind. Others may say Jorden or Lebron and also base their arguments on stats and championships. However, when we take a step back and observe our motivations, I believe that we all have an emotional attachment to the player that influences the “logic” and our rational thought process. I grew up watching Kobe. I experienced every game winner, every fade-away, and every championship he’s ever won. Through all the good and bad times in his career, I was watching and rooting for him. So, of course, my arguments are based on passion and emotion. If I were to argue against Kobe, even for logical reasons, I would feel like I’m betraying a part of myself.

Conservatives and liberals, theists and atheists, philosophers and scientists, are all the same way; emotionally attached to their cause, especially one that are the most educated, outspoken, and involved in it. If you spend hours, months, years, and even a lifetime learning and supporting your cause, how can you not be emotionally attached to it? How can you not feel defensive when someone says you’re wrong, despite people’s reasons? There’s nothing wrong with being attached to a cause, especially one that you believe in, but we must all realize when our emotions start clouding our rational thought.

So this is where the topic of messages come in. When someone burns a flag or raises a flag, takes a knee in protest or praise, blocks a freeway, supports a movement, votes for a political candidate, prays in school, or posts on facebook, a message is sent out to the masses whether they want it or not. However, very few of these messages ever change the opinions of others. If fact, they tend to divide people even more! What’s most indicative of conflict than a disagreement between something that both parties are emotionally attached to?

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee to the national anthem, the nation was divided in labeling it as an act of protest and an act of disrespect. The results of this knee was not a promotion of rights for minorities, instead, it was a catalyst of further division among people of differing opinions. Who’s to blame for this? I don’t believe Kaepernick intended any harm. I think he simply wanted to protest in his own way and exercise his freedom of speech. Whether you think it’s right or not, I don’t really care. But the problem with sending a message is that your intentions become ignored. When society gets ahold of your message, they can twist and turn it into whatever fits their emotions.

Two common responses to Kaepernick are as followed:

“Oh, you disrespect our national anthem? If you hate our country so much, then why don’t you just leave!”

“He’s expressing his 1st Amendment rights and giving a voice against the problems of society!”

Both I believe are valid. Yes, many people find it very disrespectful and yes things need to be said and expressed so people can be aware of the inequalities in the United States. Neither side is going to concede to the others opinions because it causes their emotionally charged beliefs to lose power to the other side.

TL;DR

I think this is the state of America today. Too much opposition with each other, too much pride, and too little understanding of our emotionally charged beliefs. Sending messages through actions or words is not a bad thing, but we must recognize that such messages may strike an emotional chord for some people. Henry Ford once said that “If there is any one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own”. Empathy is the key to finding a common ground, but it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide. 

But that’s where humility sheds its soft, yet powerful light. Humility is a dying virtue, especially in a society that’s ready to pounce on any sign of weakness. Once someone admits fault, he or she becomes vulnerable to attacks on all ends. But if a society does not learn to be humble, pride will cause them to self-destruct and devour each other from the inside out.

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