Is it True? Is it Kind? Does it Improve the Silence?

There is truth in the title. Those of you of a first class intelligence ( the majority of people who read the TC Herald), will hear the truth and act on it. Some of us hear the truth and need to verify it with our own experience before we will act on it. The rest of us, sadly a rapidly growing group, may hear truth but, failing to act on it, will repeat the experience many times.

Think before you speak. Discretion is the better part of valor. A word to the wise is sufficient. Don’t let your mouth write a check that your buttocks cannot cash.

From the time we first learn to talk, the momentum of civil society itself attempts to imbue us with the simple but essential knowledge necessary to maintain that society.

The human psyche is a complex summation of chemical reactions and electrical currents, tentatively balanced on the boundary between instinct and cognition; prone to impulses that are often chaotic and unreliable.

We don’t act on every impulse. We don’t say everything that pops into our heads.

The above statement delineates half the challenge of raising a child. Put that down. Be nice to your sister. That’s not a toy. Don’t yell. Be still. Learning impulse control is the primary lesson of childhood, and for many, that lesson continues for a lifetime. Prisons, asylums and grave yards are populated by those who did not or could not learn it, or who forgot it at a critical moment.

Somewhere between the temper tantrums of a two year old and a Youtube video of a knock down drag out fight between adults in a fast food restaurant, outraged because somebody’s fries were cold, is a failure of civil society to produce civilized members.

Blame what or who we may, for there is a sufficient quantity for some of it to always find the mark. But we, ourselves, participate every day in a modern ritual of obsession which eats away at civil society like an acid. Technology unguided leverages our lack of impulse control into a divisive and debilitating force. It makes us angry, It makes us anxious and fearful. It makes us sick.

The effect is cumulative. Think of a traffic jam, where the combined impulses of a self absorbed herd can immobilize a highway for miles. Each little selfish act combines with others in a cascading sequence of events. Social media can have a very similar effect on a civil society.

The asphalt highway suggests a relative anonymity which can defer the social consequences of an ill considered action. (A person’s true character is often revealed in the way they drive.) The rude and aggressive driver is, and should be, reluctant to act in person the way she does on the road. On the information highway, the rude and aggressive participant in social media assumes he is immune to any consequences of ill considered or hateful speech.

But there are consequences, and we see them in the divisiveness and ill will which now characterize our political process. We see them in the Balkanization of life in America, less “a people” as time goes by as a collection of identities who believe that an opinion is an entitlement.

It isn’t. We have a right to form an opinion, but it is our due diligence and the work involved in forming an opinion that entitles us to have it. Every day we experience the consequences of opinions formed (and shared) with no diligence or discretion at all.

It isn’t entirely our fault. We are enticed to participate in the drama, rewarded with little injections of serotonin when we are liked or followed, or dosed with adrenaline when we have an angry exchange or reaction. It’s easy, and it’s addictive.

Take a step back and consider the sum total of all that we can see and hear at any hour of the day or night, the continuous noise of opinions and arguments, daily disasters, never ending scandals and controversies and investigations, and it’s all repeated over and over in a never ending showing and sharing of everything that happens and everything that is said, and everything that is said about what happens and everything that is said about what is said.

It’s the ultimate inclusion when we join in the fray with our comments and replies to comments. Forget the thing. The comment is the thing, and the story is the tweet and all the reactions to the tweet are the story. And we’re all included. We’re all entitled and we’re all here together on the information superhighway. So why are we so angry with each other?

Because we have created a big angry traffic jam in our national discourse, and the sound of everyone blowing their horn at once does not improve our attitudes or our impulse control, and yet we are shocked and offended when someone succumbs to road rage.

The solution is ridiculously simple. Just turn it off. Close the laptop. Turn the phone face down. But if the addiction is too strong and we find ourselves back in the fray, all is not lost. Those three simple questions can serve to improve the traffic wherever we are:

Is it true?

Is it kind?

Does it improve the silence?

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