Our Either/Or Society

I have a confession to make: I read the comments sections on news articles. Even though I know I shouldn’t—even though I tell myself that I won’t—they’re the disaster I can’t look away from. You could call it “online rubber-necking.” At times I do pretty well at exercising self-control, but at other times, they’re just too tempting to resist.

Reading the polarities displayed on these comment boards, I’m learning some facts about human nature. One of them is our society’s tendency to engage in either/or thinking. This realization was prompted by such an exchange over a decade ago and has been steeping in my mind ever since. Over the years, I have seen an increase in such exchanges. I wish I could say I think it’s because I’m reading more comments now, but I don’t believe that’s the case.

The article that highlighted these thoughts was the news of a freeway accident involving a car and a motorcycle. Not much was known about the accident at the time and the report was only a rough sketch with time and location. That didn’t stop the commenters from speculating. Almost immediately, they split into two groups: those who believe that car drivers never look for motorcycles and those who believe that motorcyclists think they own the road. One side blamed the car driver while the other blamed the motorcyclist. I don’t remember anyone else considering what I considered: that they were both at fault.

How often have you yourself seen a situation in which this is the case? Two drivers decide to change lanes at the same time, coming from two directions. If an accident ensues, it’s the result of bad timing. Neither one was really being careless, but neither one was being completely careful, either.

In our world, there is often no one reason for the things that happen. Multiple factors go into the daily situations we deal with. In trying to find meaning for an event, we could easily oversimplify it and miss something important. Over the past year, I have had many opportunities to see this.

Towards the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, a popular university religion instructor asked his social media followers if they believed the pandemic was an act of God or simply something we have to go through as part of human life. He believed it was the latter. Personally, I don’t believe it has to be one or the other; it can very easily be both. After all, God uses our mortal experiences to teach us spiritual lessons. Sickness, death, grief—they are all part of this life. But just as God has used sickness, death, and grief in the past to get His children to pay attention, He can use them to get our attention today.

In a similar vein, we aren’t limited to learning only one lesson from our experiences. We learn about our own human frailties, the nuances of God’s plan, and how different people react to shared experiences.

Whether we’re looking at the political sphere, the contributing factors to a global disaster, or whom to hold accountable when an accident occurs, it could be a mistake to ignore all but one factor. If we accept only our own opinion as the absolute truth, we fail to learn the lessons we are meant to learn and run the risk of perpetuating a false truth. All human ideas—left, right, or center—are as faulty as the humans who create them.

How do we combat this? Listen. Try to understand. Be willing to learn. And, most important of all, accept that, as strongly as we feel about our own ideas, we may not be right.

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