Dialogues virtual and face-to-face
I have tried a few times to get involved in uncomfortable discussions online or in whatsapp groups, sometimes with people I know personally, sometimes with people I have not met face-to-face. I confess that it has generally not gone very well. Even in the groups where I have known the majority of people, I have been misunderstood and have misunderstood others. The conversation has landed us in unfamiliar territory, where the expectation we have of “being known” by others, of sharing a common history of face-to-face contact, has been hollowed out. We feel unfamiliar, even to ourselves, strangers communicating with other strangers.
As a result, I tend to “listen” online more than I “speak”. Lately I have noticed some unwelcome changes in myself as I “listen”.
Due to the nature of social media, it is possible for me to read many more stories than I could ever manage to physically listen to face-to-face. This could be seen as advantageous – an opportunity for me to be exposed to many people outside of my regular social circles, on a more level playing field, where we meet as equals in virtual rooms, whatever our background. And that is how I have chosen to see it.
Now, however, I am noticing a blunting of my emotions and empathy as I speed read through yet another story of personal suffering, pain, joy or triumph … I am beginning to feel less emotion and less connection to the people behind the words on the screen. It feels like they are less human, and I am less human.
I don’t want this. I am concerned that it could spill over the borders of the virtual world and into my everyday interactions.
In an effort to hold onto my humanness and theirs, I am limiting my exposure to the online groups. For now, I will read one person’s story today, and another person’s tomorrow. There may be a day where I read no-one’s story. I do this in the hope, not of preserving my privileged bubble, but of protecting my ability to really see the person that I meet face-to-face, to really hear their heart and not just their speech, to connect with their experience, to have the energy to have our lives intertwined and changed. I do this for the sake of nurturing face-to-face dialogue with tell-tale body language, facial expression, tone and volume of voice.
If you feel similar and would like to participate in or host a Diversity Dialogue this year, please leave a comment below or contact me – firstname.lastname@example.org