I’ve been working in digital media for a decade, and every year is proclaimed the year of outrage. While digital media has democratized information and given rise to new sources of information, it has also demonstrated how quickly we are to formulate opinions.
The problem is that so many of us are inflexible in our ideas and opinions. We think our instantaneous conclusions are correct and fight against anything that tells us our initial reaction is flawed.
I am as guilty as anyone of formulating a quick opinion, but I try to be flexible and willing to change my opinion based on new information. This is a key to living in a civil society where ideas are shared and circulated among a diverse, global population. Some people call it flip-flopping, I call it being a critical thinker.
Most recently, I formulated a snap judgement about the #BlackLivesMatter campaign strategy of interrupting Bernie Sanders. This happened once in Arizona, and again in Seattle. I wondered why they would interrupt someone who had marched with Martin Luther King and been part of the civil rights movement his entire political career.
I started noticing what to me seemed like extreme outrage. People called the protesters rude and ignorant. How DARE they interrupt the man so many people had showed up to hear speak? Why interrupt someone who is already on their side? Then came the big smear: one of the women was an alleged former member of the Tea Party and accused of being an agent provocateur. Was she there to undermine the BLM movement?
There we were, back to the narrative that undermines activism on a whole; where people are upset that protests would have any impact on their experience. I’ve seen it over an over. During the height of Occupy Wall Street, people complained about traffic because protesters were blocking the street. During the recent protests in Ferguson, where a young man was shot almost a year to the day Michael Brown was shot, someone actually drove a car through the protest line.
So I stepped back from the anti-protest sentiment and started listening to both sides of the discussion. What I discovered was that despite what many called an ignorant, rude and plain stupid strategy, the overall effect had been positive, at least for Sanders. People rallied pointing out his record for supporting civil rights issues. All of that might have been true, but according to Black Lives Matter, Sanders was entirely focused on economic issues. Their goal was to pressure him into addressing racial inequality and injustice.
And Sanders listened. He even contacted a BLM activist and hired her to be the voice of his new racial justice platform. So agree or disagree, the net result of the interruption was that a presidential candidate changed his campaign strategy to include an issue that he cared about, but hadn’t been addressing directly.
Bernie changed his mind, and so did I.
What we have to realize is that there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind based on new information. In fact, next time you find yourself outraged about something on the Internet, I challenge you to step away from your initial reaction, examine the evidence from multiple sides of the issue and formulate a smart opinion based on as much information as you can get our hands on.
This is how we can elevate our online discourse and formulate smarter, informed opinions.