If you have been anywhere near a television, computer, phone, or newspaper recently, you would have heard of a little (massive) conflict that is raging like an inferno in Gaza.
It has become a regular feature of daily news headlines, in the radio, on your tv, on your Facebook news feed: talk of the violence in the Middle East has quickly swelled from a murmur to a raucous conversation. And everybody is getting involved.
I am the first to admit that I have very little expertise in the subject of relations in the Middle East, but I know enough to know that recent events in Gaza are a culmination of a long and complicated history that it would take a lifetime of dedicated study for me to even begin to understand.
I know enough to know that things have been unstable for a very long time. I know enough to know that I am so very privileged and fortunate to never have experienced even a fraction of the horrors that those in the Middle East are experiencing right now.
I know enough to know that I know nowhere near enough to be able to form a well-rounded opinion on the conflict, much less express this to others in any public capacity.
But apparently, I am one of the only ones: opinions are exploding all over my Facebook feed, jumping out at me when I open my twitter account, and broadcast all across the airwaves when I listen to talkback segments on radio.
They’re opinions from lots of different people who love to join the conversation and who have been challenged and confronted with what the world is seeing unfolding in Gaza.
Their opinions are emotional, outraged, astounded, disgusted, surprised, aghast, and heartfelt. Above all, I truly believe that they come from a good place; from a place that desires peace for all humans.
But largely, they are also incredibly and unknowingly ignorant.
I wonder how many of them were interested in relations in the Middle East, before recently. I wonder how many of them invested the time in trying to understand what the situation is.
In my own Facebook feed, I have seen numerous posts by people that I know personally, who have never before held an interest in the political state of the Middle East. All of a sudden, these same people are picking sides and brandishing opinions loudly and often.
I get it, I totally do. We hear a few things, read a few reports and respond loudly and emotionally because we empathise with those who are suffering and we feel powerless to help them.
We cry out for someone else to help – someone bigger than ourselves – to do all the things that we wish we could do, and can’t. But this overwhelming desire can manifest itself as a premature response that is based largely on rhetoric, rather than a well-informed opinion that is based on a broad range of gathered information.
Social media has always had a habit of allowing (and even passively encouraging) such responses, no matter what the topic; the situation in Gaza has merely highlighted this tendency. However jumping on an opinion, shouting it from the rooftops and then defending it vigorously – even though a large number of people doing this, I suspect, do not properly understand the complexities or depths of the issues at hand – can be extremely counter-productive to stopping this kind of violence.
An article I found recently addresses the problem with this. It’s written by a man named Sanjay Sanghoee and I wanted to share it here because he very succinctly explains the issues created when people engage in an aggressive dialogue when they are not as well-informed as they should be.
Now you may not agree with everything he writes, but the point I think he makes very well is that taking to social media to play judge and jury in a situation we know very little about, is not helpful. It fuels the fire, adding more hatred, more animosity, more discontent to a conflict that is raging out of control.
Just because we are inundated with information through all forms of technology, does not necessarily mean we are informed. And just because we have the access to publish our opinion far and wide, doesn’t mean that we should.
It means we have a privilege that many generations before us did not. We have the privilege of being able to call up any information we want, at any time, from computers, tablets, and phones. It means we are given free access to this information and are able to educate ourselves even exposing ourselves to the people involved in this conflict first-hand.
When we get so caught up in expressing ourselves, forming quick opinions, and brandishing them around as a weapon or armour, we are at risk of missing the real issues and drowning out the voices of those who matter.
By all means, we should talk about it; start a discussion within our communities, ask questions, propose ideas, listen to the ideas of others.
But let’s be constructive: Look at news reports but also read expert opinion pieces, or listen to people who are working on the front line. Pay attention to the people that have spent their whole lives studying international relations and those with specific knowledge on politics in the Middle East. Hear what they have to say.
Play devil’s advocate with yourself and purposely seek out countering opinions. Do you find yourself questioning your ideas? Or do you find yourself disagreeing with their sentiments? How does their information compare to that which you’ve heard already?
Let’s weigh all the information against our own judgments and form our opinions based on the facts we have gathered from a range of different sources, and then let’s use them in the most constructive way possible; as motivation to make a practical difference in our respective corners of the world, rather than indulging in keyboard activism.
We have unprecedented access to knowledge that can inform and empower us – let’s ensure that it does.
photo credit: Duncan C via flickr