Monday, August 1, 2011

Seeking Validation

There was an article in the local Tribune several weeks back about reactions people have posted online about the verdict in a heavily publicized case surrounding the death of a toddler. As the article noted, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have "provided a platform and a large audience for a decibel level of vitriol seldom seen before." So there is clearly plenty online already about the case, the verdict, and the reactions, and I don't feel a need to add to that.

What most caught my attention in the article is one woman who "said she felt comfortable sharing her outrage with others online. 'It was a convenient place to vent where I knew people would mostly feel the same way as I do.'"

I haven't included the woman's name here -- partly because I'm about to make a tiny leap that might not be true of her and it is unfair to do that without more information than I have, and partly because her name isn't relevant to the greater picture. This quote from her is just an example, a starting point, because from what I have seen in this situation and others, the sentiment she expressed -- a desire to express herself primarily to those with similar perspectives -- seems pretty common, especially online.

My question is this:  Why? The quote implies that she was seeking out people who would support her position. Why was that validation important to her and, more significantly, why is such behavior so common beyond this one person?

My fear is this:  We tend to seek uncritical validation of our own perspectives more than we create space for others to offer different perspectives, and by doing this we avoid the hard work required in both ideological and relational conflicts which may occur. We miss opportunities provided by healthy challenges to our thoughts, and we miss the deeper relationships which could form in the process.

Maybe differences of opinion seem like a threat to relationships. Maybe differences of opinion seem like a threat to identity. Maybe it feels necessary to persuade others, and to not do so feels like failure. Maybe we simply don't know how to have these conversations well, expressing developed thoughts and genuine feelings in ways that are respectful of both ourselves and others. Maybe it's some of these things together, or all of them, and more.

I don't know.

But whatever it is, my hope is that we as a culture will discover the need and develop the skills to engage honestly and respectfully with others rather than just seeking out people who will tell us we're right.

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