BY ANN DAPICE
As with all new technology there are unanticipated problems. People, both male and female, are writing and talking about being bullied on social media – bullied by both men and women. Even with names attached, some people seem to communicate only when they can attack others. People describe issues online that are serious to them, issues that they feel conscience requires that they write about, only to experience verbal assaults from people who are supposed to be their friends.
For some time now, comments responding to major media articles online have often been inaccurate and demeaning. Public radio has just aired programs entitled, “When Lies Become Truth” and the “Loss of Civility.” What is going on? Is this behavior only failure to be politically correct as some claim? Is it hate speech? Is it only the result of this unusual political season? Will it end after the election?
Meanwhile, major challenges face us in the world: Russian support of the Syrian war against its people, ongoing attempts to stop ISIS, responses to climate change, the return of overt racism and misogyny, police violence against minorities, and how citizens and corporations are to be taxed – to name only a few.
Truth seems to be held hostage to a compelling “photo” or meme on social media accompanied by several “facts” from unknown sources related to often complex human issues.
The cannons of professional journalism are replaced by anyone who wants to have a say about anything at all – facilitated by the internet. Persuasion and propaganda threaten not only interpersonal relationships as people “unfriend” each other on Facebook, but threaten our democracy as well. We are even hearing the term “mob rule” again.
What matters to us as a people? This is a values question. What values are at stake during this chaotic time? Research tells us that we have public and private values.
Corporate mission statements will most often include something about “service to the community” and will not say that we’re “going to take your money and run!” But private values are not limited to what we want to hide. In the U.S. especially, we tend to disapprove of words and behavior that appear to be self-righteous. For example, instead of saying that it was the honest thing to do, a person will say that what was done was just part of the job description.
Our Institute of Values Inquiry research of several thousand individuals, representing all races and religions, demonstrates what had long been theorized – that we have conscious and less conscious values. When people are asked to list and rank 12 values anonymously, the first few values are typically family, friends and God [or their belief system]. After that the most common values listed are altruistic such as kindness, honesty, compassion, trust, justice, knowledge, and caring.
When these values are unfolded to a less conscious level through a series of “why” questions, values themes develop that are most often related to self: feeling good, being liked and loved, success and winning, excitement and challenge, pleasure, personal peace, recognition, and security. Seven percent of us will continue to have altruistic values at the less conscious level.
Study of behavior related to these values shows that, in general, people will often act on the altruistic values – as long as they don’t come in conflict with their less conscious themes such as being liked, or recognition, or success.
The less conscious themes can also come in conflict. For example, one woman listed themes of being liked and loved but also the theme of being successful. She said when she focused on family and friends she was seen as less successful in her career, and when she focused on her career, her family and friends felt ignored.
The altruists will be most likely to act consistently in ways that help others. They may well, however, experience conflict in meeting their obligations to family and friends.
In this new time of “fact” checking, people will be truthful when it’s not in conflict with other values, or their personal belief systems, or their political affiliations. They will likely trust the information given to them by their friends and associates, or their self-selected and preferred media sources. So-called “white” lies are common and used by most of us so as not to hurt an important relationship when the objective truth might not be welcome! While blaming others, people are often in denial regarding the many times they themselves shade the truth.
Private and public values mentioned above come into play when people can now see themselves as somehow anonymous and able to go public on the internet when they might not say the same things in face-to-face encounters with friends and family.
Given the result of these recent experiences, will we have new understandings and rules of friendship and affiliation?
During this political season Facebook morphed from what was once a kind of exchange between friends with baby pictures, recipes, inspirational messages, latest travels, and selfies, to a political forum where anyone with a smart phone or computer could participate – regardless of political and historical knowledge.
We hear of talk of healing that will be needed to move forward after the election. Before this election season it has been common for a number of years to see inappropriate responses to newspaper articles online, but these were typically not exchanges between friends.
The internet and political figures have allowed the unleashing of a collective Id that takes no prisoners. Will the election bring the racism, misogyny, bully treatment of the disabled, and other darkness that has surfaced to a collective end? Some talk of the need for leadership to help this happen. Perhaps it will depend on how we as individuals come to understand the consequences of our values and our willingness to change and grow.
– Ann Dapice received a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. She has taught and/or served as administrator at a number of universities including the University of Pennsylvania, Widener University, Penn State University, Rodgers State University and Goddard College, teaching courses in the social sciences, philosophy and Native American Studies and served as a Fellow at Coolidge Research Colloquium, Andover Newton Theological School. She is Executive Director, Institute of Values Inquiry, a 501(c)(3) research organization and Director of Education and Research for T.K. Wolf, Inc., a 501(c)(3) American Indian organization. She consults with the University of Pennsylvania on development of Native American Programs. Her cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research has been reported in professional journals, books, and academic presentations regionally, nationally and internationally – and in newspapers, radio, television, and the internet.