Social Media, the Arts, and the Long Lost Virtue of Listening


Taking a break from design-related content today to put pen to paper (er, fingers to keyboard?) on a topic that’s been swirling around my mind for some time now. As we’ve all been spending untold amounts of time at home during this crazy time in our world, I know most of us have been consuming more than ever (and I don’t mean snacks, although…guilty). We’re watching more movies, reading more books, and definitely spending more time on social media. So this begs the question: how do you decide what to watch and read, and whom to follow? There are a lot of different ways to filter these decisions on your own, and the point of this little essay of mine is not to give you an overall process, but rather to encourage one specific element that often is overlooked.

The value of “the other”…

Two or three years ago, I had a revelation about the content I was consuming: most of the people (whether actors in a movie, characters in a book, or individuals on Instagram) looked like me. Not only physically (although, YES), but our backgrounds, values, and worldviews were eerily similar. I had unconsciously taken the position that what I consume should affirm me. I wanted to be bolstered, my views upheld. I wanted to nod my head in agreement more often than not, and I called all of this “encouragement”. I wanted to be “encouraged”. I’d made my mind up about the way the world was, and frankly didn’t care to question it.

This realization did not sit well with me. I felt incredibly convicted by it. I could make the case all day long about the huge role media and culture play in the way we see the world, yet as I looked at the sources of my “culture”, it was clear that I was being influenced in a completely unbalanced way. I made a quiet, personal vow to remedy this, and I have to say: the results have amazed me. Once I started reading books by authors with a different perspective than mine, watching movies about issues I felt didn’t relate to me, and following people on social media that did not look like me; this worldview I had forged began to crack. And morph. And grow.

What’s in it for you…

So what can you expect when you “pursue the other”, so to speak? In a word, growth. You will grow in empathy, compassion, understanding. Perhaps an opinion you held will change (I know that’s happened to me more than once). You might start to see evidence of a cultural issue that you thought was perhaps made up, or at least blown out of proportion. Maybe you’ll find out a phrase you’ve been in the habit of using is actually incredibly hurtful to people different than you (turns out being “colorblind” in regards to race is NOT a virtue to be praised).

This growth won’t always come in the form of change, however. Sometimes your convictions will deepen. You may hear the story of someone with a different belief system than your own, and your heart will break for them. I know my faith in Christ has been strengthened by considering the perspective of someone who does not know of His love for them and what He’s accomplished for them through His death and resurrection. And this strength is coming not in the form of “ammo” for an evangelical debate, but rather it fuels my love and compassion for God’s creation, and gives me insight into their lives so that I might be able to effectively engage others in the gospel. All this to say, if your opinions or views are grounded in truth, you need not fear considering alternative perspectives.

It’s not always easy…

Taking in opinions and voices different than your own is not always a pleasant experience; growth rarely is. You’ll be offended. You may feel “attacked” at times. You’ll bristle, buck, and want to reach through the page or screen and make yourself heard. Let that be a flag for you (I won’t call it a red one…just a flag). In those moments, take a breath. Consider why you desperately want to react. Is your goal to understand, or to be “right”? Is there an ounce of truth to what’s being said? Acknowledge that. Is there a chance you were ready to disagree before you even heard what was being said, simply because of who was saying it? Acknowledge that. Is the speaker hurt? Have you (or people with whom you identify for whatever reason) contributed to this hurt? Acknowledge that. What can you learn about this person or topic that perhaps you didn’t realize before (regardless if you agree with an overall sentiment)? Acknowledge that. One more deep breath, then move on. This change and growth I keep referring to did not happen immediately, but over time.

Your job is to listen…

As you consider taking in voices different from your own in the media and culture you consume (and oh, I hope you will), please remember: your job in this is to LISTEN. That is it. If you start following someone on Instagram with a differing opinion than yourself, don’t you dare take up space in their feed defending your position. You not commenting or sending direct messages is not tantamount to tacit compliance. It is okay to listen, disagree, and move on – particularly in the realm of social media. Hearts and minds will never be won in the comment section. They are won in relationships. Again: your job is to listen, seek to understand, and pray (either for the creator of the content you are consuming, or for your own heart).

Comprehensive, not progressive…

The goal in all of this is to gain a wider, more comprehensive view of humanity; not to possess the most inclusive or progressive worldview possible. Growing in empathy and understanding is NOT the same as condoning. It’s possible to understand yet disagree. It’s the understanding piece that I feel like we are missing. The hope is that as you consider the perspective of others, you grow in empathy, and begin to understand the world better in order to love others more fully.

We live in possibly the most polarizing social climate that’s ever existed, steeped in preconceived notions, identity politics, and so. much. shouting. I am far (SO VERY FAR) from being perfect in this. I just know the personal growth that has happened in my own heart and mind over the past few years as I’ve committed to listening to stories different from my own; and, well, I’m passionate about it.

So what do you think? Have you already done this? Am I way off-base? Do you maybe agree, but aren’t sure where to start? I have LOTS of ideas, so shoot me an email (or better yet, leave a comment below) if you’d like some direction.



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  1. Alicia C. says:

    This is beautifully put. My therapist is constantly directing me down a path of empathy when it comes to people, views, stances, ideologies, etc. that I don’t agree with. It’s helpful to consider what is important to someone else may not be important to you, and that is okay, but remember that we are all doing the best we can, whether we can agree or not.