The Boring Appeal for Moderation and against Polarization

As the world continues to move into the digital sphere and social distancing creates more virtual spaces for discourse, ideas and opinions are hurled in text and video clips short enough to hold the evermore shrinking attention spans. What it has done in terms of promoting (or discouraging) conversation on social issues, is a debate in itself.

I am writing this article to address how creating polarization online can dampen the effects of reaching out to people who can otherwise be an ally to a cause. Specifically, in the context of women’s issues including online harassment.

There is no doubt that online harassment, just like other forms of harassment, is a growing issue which affects people’s lives and their mental health. When taken further, it can have life-threatening consequences.

I feel a few mandatory disclosures must be given before we can move ahead:

- Harassment and abuse is wrong, it is a reality, it cannot and should not be denied.

- People who support and enable them are wrong!

The fact that its necessary to spell something like that out, is because creating a polarized environment results in discussions carried in black and white only. So the mere suggestion of grey areas, makes people assume that if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Just because you don’t completely agree with how an opinion is presented, does not mean you’re against that concept.

It is also important to mention that fighting a Patriarchal system has always been about fighting extremism. Like a pendulum, in order to reach equilibrium, the pendulum must reach the other extreme before it can come to that desired state of equilibrium.

However, the environment created by social media means that every millisecond of that pendulum swing is now captured in time. The challenge with that is that people are expected to be held to the same ethical standard every time. Human beings however are walking contradictions of themselves. It is natural that we might not agree with all of a particular school of thought and might lie in the middle on some issues.

When you force someone to “pick a side”, you’re consequently creating the polarization/divide.

It is time that we need to move the conversation ahead from this. We need to realize that there are those that will never agree with us.

But then there are people in the middle with moderate opinions who might agree with some of your opinions but will not be comfortable with all of them.

This is where we need perspective and empathy.

Perspective means to be able to understand where the other side is coming from, what made them shape their current views and how can it be difficult from them to shed their believes and understand yours in turn.

Empathy requires understanding that people have limitations, their environment and their personal history hinders them from learning, self-actualization and admitting when they are wrong.

The question then, is what’s the solution? How do we smash the Patriarchy indeed. We can go on hours understanding and debating the merits of feminism however, that requires an understanding of who’s your audience.

If you don’t have time or the patience for a moderate conversation, then that’s your decision as well. However, at the same time, you need to be aware that you might be hurting your cause in the process. Of course, the whole point of smashing patriarchy is not to conform or follow rules.

But where do we draw the line of identifying who are the perpetrators and enablers of this system and who are the victims themselves.

Social media activism is nothing more than earning brownie points by trying to one-up each other, so in such environment how do we make our message catchy enough to reach out, not just the correct audience but also to ensure that we are creating allies and not polarizing those who are on the fence.

We should not lose sight of keeping our ideology consistent, even if it doesn’t work in our favour.

In the case of feminism, it means accepting that being a woman does not make you correct all the time. True equality in fact means, that women can be just as wrong/evil/corrupt as men. Being on the “right side of history” requires taking the conversation further from being reactionary. Not resort to gotcha tactics.

The point is not about being as bad as them.

We.need.more.moderate.voices. And Ironically, we need them to be louder!

Being a moderate automatically means that you don’t react strongly and your voice does not reach far. we need to understand that for both sides of an argument, Its the extreme voices that are always most prominent.

Social media, like everything, has amplified this dynamic of the society as well. But we can also use this to our advantage.

Moderates need to pusher harder because that’s how we reach equilibrium. We need to incorporate our voices in all these discussions, even if it comes at the cost of being bashed by both sides.

It makes it all the more important that we show the patience, take our time to evaluate our opinions and do not jump onto bandwagons because a statement on surface reaffirms our belief. We need to “be the bigger person” if we truly believe in promoting a cause and aren’t just init for self-promotion.

Moving forward requires that we make the dialogue more inclusive and this is something we can only expect from the side that claims to be fighting for fairness and equality.

Our responsibility is greater in terms of not only fighting those who enable harassment but also among ourselves, to keep a check on our behaviour.

An appeal for moderation and tolerance, requires we call out and disagree with those elements which are “on our side”

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