The Death of Meaningful Conversation
Updated: Oct 24, 2021
Something my wife and I often do is have conversations. It usually begins with one of us reading an article or watching a video on a current topic and asking for the other's opinion on that topic or event. Often, we'll have differing opinions on that topic, which makes for a better, more interesting conversation. We each express our opinions and talk about why we disagree with the other person. These discussions never end in arguments or with either of us feeling as though we were disrespected in some way.
Why? Because we always choose our words carefully. We think about what we're going to say before we say it. We never put down the other person's thoughts on a subject. We take what they say into consideration. Do either of us ever change our minds? Not usually. It might happen sometimes, but for the most part, we leave having the same opinions as when the conversation began. But, and I can only speak for myself here, I leave these discussions feeling good. I feel as though we've had an intellectually stimulating conversation and I feel I've grown as a person, even if I didn't change my viewpoint, I still learned what and why someone else thinks differently than I do on a topic.
I don't see this happening much anymore in our society. I'm not sure what the reason is, but I blame social media. Sure, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc...have their uses. I tend to use them to keep in touch with family that live far away, to network with other writers, and for jokes because who doesn't need a good laugh every now and then? But the issue with them, for me at least, is the lack of meaningful conversation. Something I've seen often is someone will post an opinion on a topic then, when someone else comments in (respectful) disagreement, the poster will chastise them saying they weren't looking to debate the topic.
Now, first of all, if you think that people aren't going to disagree with you when you post an opinion on any given topic, then you don't know people very well. Second, it seems to me it takes a fairly vain person to share their opinion for others to read but not want to hear other people's opinions on that same topic. It also comes across as condescending in the way that not wanting to hear dissenting opinions comes off as a "I'm right and you're wrong so shut up" kind of attitude.
The second way I see social media affecting meaningful conversation is people no longer have a discussion with those they disagree with. Let's say I say something someone doesn't like. Instead of having a conversation with me about it, they'll go on whatever social media platform they use, or several as is often the case, and write a post (or make a TikTok or whatever) and tell the world what it is I said that they didn't like. Odds are, I'll never even know about it and no meaningful conversation will have taken place and neither of us will have grown or learned anything. The only thing that is achieved here is they get validation from their echo chamber (because let's be honest, most people only associate with those who agree with them on anything and the only acceptable comments on their opinions are the ones who agree with them) and I have more time to work on my new novel since I'm not spending it having a discussion with someone.
My third and final point about how social media is killing meaningful conversation is it makes it too easy to shut people down. This is done in several ways: some people will block anyone who disagrees with them (this goes back to the echo chamber I mentioned earlier), some will insult anyone who disagrees with them and any attempts at a meaningful and respectful debate are met with being called sheep (or sheeple, which seems like it has become so commonplace my spellchecker now recognizes it as a word) or idiot (or as most people call me on social media: eediot--ha! Spellcheck doesn't recognize that one yet!), and others still will just let their friends gang up on the person. Some of these have even made their way into the real world. How often do we hear of students shutting down speakers because they don't agree with them? Instead of letting the person speak and attempting a meaningful debate on whatever topic that person came to discuss, they try to shut it down strictly because that person holds a view different to their own.
This may be an unpopular opinion these days, but I think discussions with people who disagree with us are vital to our growth as human beings. Sure, it's nice to be surrounded by people who agree with everything we say. As people, we often enjoy that kind of validation, but we'll never learn anything. Also, when we're able to debate something we strongly believe and can walk away unconvinced by their arguments, we become stronger in our convictions, more convinced we chose the right side of the argument. Besides, if you believe you are one hundred percent right on a topic and someone else is one hundred percent wrong, if you just shut them down, they will never change their belief. Sure, it's rare that someone will change their opinion during a conversation, but the chances of it happening just went from slim to zero.
Don't agree with my opinion here? Great! Let's have a conversation about it.