Source: Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash
Recently, I’ve had the honor of joining or observing purposeful conversations with individuals from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and generations, to discuss equity, access, and inclusion with regard to gender. The background and underlying context of these conversations inevitably includes current messages making their way through social media channels and into our living rooms, residence halls, and school cafeterias. Whether it’s in response to hashtag campaigns, local news, or an underlying vibration that each and every one feels in response to fear, anxiety, and harassment, there are signs that in spite of divisions, there is momentum toward a shared empathy. In today’s climate of political polarization, a surprising message is making its way through the cultural waves, it’s one of inclusion, one of seeking common ground, and one of narrowing a focus on shared experience and values.
Brené Brown refers to this necessary movement in her recent book, Braving the Wilderness. Dr. Brown encourages us to have a strong back, soft front, and a courageous heart as we recognize that it’s hard to hate up close. Rabbi Lord Johnathan Sacks’ 2017 TED Talk, How Can We Face the Future Without Fear, Together discusses the importance of intentionally gathering with those who we know have different perspectives and experiences so that we may move out of our echo chambers and into communion with one another as humans. Both messages implore purposeful conversations with others whom we know to have different perspectives. The underlying message is courageous listening and speaking, especially when it comes to the sharing of new and uncommon ideas and perspectives.
Most recently, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from presenters on the stage of World Muse. Women, such as Sally Kohn and Betty Reid Soskin shared their stories of courageously seeking alternative sides to common narratives. Perhaps the most powerful experience of this year’s Muse event was the collective poem, arranged by Teafly Peterson, based on the voices of over 100 girls, read by six young women, 8th graders through high school seniors. In their reading of Here I Am, the voices of youth who were challenged by perceptions, expectations, biases, and limitations of their society was one of solidarity. Their narration also included reminders of the vibrant creativity, hope, power, and empathy that exist in the voices and hearts of youth who are straddling the safety of childhood and the uncertainty of adulthood.
In another context, one in which includes women with diverse experiences and a shared commitment to equity and inclusion, I was reminded of the strategy employed by the women in President Obama’s administration, amplification. Amplification is the strategy in which women will echo, restate, and give credit to what another woman has offered to a discussion. In doing so, the owner of the idea remains, the power of the message is affirmed, and a sense of support is built into the narrative. While I see this taking shape in the professional workplace, I see forms of the strategy in the speech used by young women as they, as in the example of the recent World Muse panels, reaffirm one another’s contribution by “adding on” with their own insights. For instance, in a panel I observed in which middle and high school girls discussed what it means to “be a girl” in today’s world, I noted that after one speaker would share her insights and personal experiences, another speaker would begin her thoughts with “adding on to what she just said…” I sense that the use of “adding on” signifies a double boost: it allows the first speaker to experience affirmation, and it aids the second speaker to feel a sense of built-in support for their subsequent contributions. I’ll step back to allow specialists in linguistics and rhetoric studies to shed light on this phenomenon, but it stood out to me as a face-to-face method of building common ground and connection–which is at the heart of learning.
When I consider the strategies of amplification and “adding on” in in-person contexts, I have to wonder about the online version of this effort to connect around shared ideas. Is liking the same as sharing? Clearly, it’s not. What is the tipping point for offering a thumbs-up nod of approval or amusement to the bigger commitment and effort it takes to share or retweet a post? And what does this mean as we move toward intentionally seeking alternative perspectives in order to move toward the higher ground of common ground? The level of vulnerability is different when it comes to liking or sharing a post of someone with whom I have many things in common as compared to taking the same action with someone that represents and espouses different beliefs that I might about any given topic. I wonder if taking this leap to follow and share the ideas of others in an online context might just open up a new dialogue altogether. I am learning from the youth around me, and I am willing to try.