4 Ways to Make This Year about Understanding Others

OVER THE LAST HANDFUL OF YEARS, as social media has become more integrated with our daily, “real-world” lives, I’ve come to the conclusion that most human beings simply don’t understand one another. I’m not talking about the fact that at least 81 percent of the global population speaks another language than you, nor am I talking about all the hours that have been poured into explaining how the Left failed to understand some portion of the GOP voting bloc in the weeks and months leading up to the 2016 general election. When I talk about understanding others, I don’t mean big-picture items like politics or religion, although some of the issues involved may be political and/or religious.

Instead, I want to focus on why we fail to understand the most banal things that other people do: the issues that everyone feels entitled to discuss, knowing nothing more than what a headline has told them. Some of these will be things that annoy you, and others will be the kind of questionably newsworthy items that generate the most shock and ire online.

But those things aren’t important! Journalists should focus on stories that matter! I hear you. It’s true that we tend to ignore bigger and more global issues when we have sensational stories and aggravating tendencies to latch onto. But what if how we deal with those small, unimportant news stories has an impact on how we relate to people in real life?

Go click on any story from a major news outlet and read the comments. Chances are high that you’ll see more than a handful of nasty and bigoted statements left by — more likely than not — anonymous posters. The anonymity that the Internet offers emboldens some people to say things they wouldn’t say otherwise, so much so that you can amend the old adage: The only honest people in the world are drunks, small children, and anonymous Internet commenters.

Because I think that, if we can civilize our discourse on everyday events, we can maybe find a way to understand where everyone stands on the Big Important Issues, I want to make this year about understanding people. I’m only touching on four points here, so just extrapolate this message to any other issue you see online.

1. Tailgating

I used to respond to tailgaters by slowing down to trap them behind me. But what if the guy behind the wheel has a very good reason for tailgating? He may have a sick child or an injured pet, be rushing to a grieving loved one’s side, or be running late to an important job interview. If that’s the case, I — in my mission to slow him down and teach him a lesson — could be costing someone their life.

Even if he’s just a dick, I’m the one congesting traffic and forcing people to linger beside each other at high speeds: a recipe for disaster if there ever was one.

The next time someone tailgates you, feel free to cuss him out, but get out of his way while you do it.

2. Wearing “Offensive” Clothing

Whether it’s a low-cut top, a tight dress, or a pair of baggy pants, fashion choices can easily get a person profiled by police or other authorities, especially if they’re a member of certain marginalized groups. But that doesn’t make them responsible for others’ biases, nor does it mean they are inviting violence upon themselves.

Another person’s clothing will never be in danger of hurting you, so just think, Those are the clothes that person likes to wear, and move on.

3. Leaving Children Unattended

This has been a very big deal over the last year or so. A gorilla was killed to save a small child, an unsecured dresser fell on a toddler, and the Internet decided that anyone who isn’t making eye contact with their children 24/7 is a bad parent.

Children are small, fast, and sneaky. It’s impossible to have your eyes on them for every second of every day. When Baby Jessica got stuck in a well for 58 hours, the world rallied around her parents in sympathy. Let’s return to those days, shall we?

4. Farming Dogs

About once a year, someone on my Facebook friends list finds out that east Asian countries farm dogs for fur and meat. That person will generally use their newfound knowledge to proclaim the superiority of the U.S. when it comes to animal welfare, in spite of the fact that we eat more meat per capita than any other country, and that we continue to have an abysmal track record when it comes to factory farming.

It’s OK if seeing dog farms unnerves you, but understand that the people who run these farms see their dogs as livestock, not pets, and that — unless you’re abstaining from animal products entirely — that doesn’t make them inferior to you.