Our New Reality
Much has changed in the last half century. Fifty years ago, if people wanted to know what was going on in the world, they read a newspaper, listened to News briefs on the radio, or watched the six o’clock news. If they wanted more in-depth information we picked up a magazine headlining the subject we were interested in. Those were our options and everyone accepted them as truth. It was a much simpler time.
Flash forward fifty years. Now there are a multitude of television and radio stations from all over the world and the internet connects people to much more. Social media allows people to share their viewpoints, thoughts and ideas around the world in a matter of seconds. You would think that these technological advances would help people to better understand one another and unite the world. But unfortunately, the opposite is more often true. Our ability to communicate our thoughts and beliefs has divided the world as nothing before ever has.
One of the biggest issues people seem to have is information overload. There are so many opposing views of the same subject thrown at us that we are suddenly faced with the fact that everything we see and hear is skewed, based on personal bias. Even the news agencies we used to trust are subject to human bias and opinions. Not to mention that every political party, special interest group, or virtually anyone with an agenda can create his own website and/or social media page projecting his personal opinion as fact. Let’s face it, the Klu Klux Klan and the Hell’s Angels have their own websites. You have to dig through a tangled web of misdirection, half-truths and outright lies to find anything that even vaguely resembles the truth.
An unfortunate side effect of this information overload is the predominance of hate messages filling social media pages. At a time when people could be using all the technology at their fingertips to learn about and understand their fellow men and women, many choose to broadcast their ignorance and fear instead.
Let me give you an example. Within hours of the white van running over the people in Toronto on April 23, 2018, killing ten and injuring another sixteen, a meme went up on Facebook, blaming Prime Minister Trudeau and the Minister of Immigration for the deaths. I researched the killings to get my facts straight, then responded to the post by saying, “What does our Prime Minister have to do with a white guy killing a bunch of people?” The response I received was. “I heard that he was a Syrian who came here six years ago.” No. But even if he was, wouldn’t that be under Prime Minister Harper’s watch? I simply said, “No, he was a white Canadian.” I received two responses from two different people. One said, “He looks Middle Eastern to me.” The other said, “He has an Arabic sounding name.” Wrong on both counts. He was born in Ontario to Armenian parents. For the record, the primary religion in Armenia is Christian, in fact one of the oldest Christian groups in the world. The final response I received was, “I posted it to get people talking.” So you post hate to get people talking. I see.
Roughly around the same time, someone else posted a meme misquoting Wilfred Laurier as saying that anyone coming to Canada must assimilate to Canadian ways. When I advised him that Laurier never said that and that it is actually taken from US President Theodore Roosevelt, he advised me that he had no time to research everything he posts for accuracy. But you have the time to post it. Sure.
The list goes on and on. Stories are overblown and taken out of context, for instance, a schoolyard fight in Red Deer, Alberta on May 15, 2017 was turned into story about Syrians attacking white students. False information lead to a mass protest by adults both at the school and on social media. In the meantime, the students, Syrian and white alike, started playing a soccer game together, a game in which several police officers even joined. Now that would have been a good story, but unfortunately it didn’t get picked up by social media.
Another story is the one about the bus/semi-trailer collision on April 6, 2018 that resulted in 16 dead and 13 injured players from the Humboldt Broncos Hockey team. Memes are claiming cover up, because the name of the driver has not been broadcast. Assumptions are being made, assuming that the driver is a Muslim refugee, and that the government doesn’t want this to be known. To me, knowing the driver’s name isn’t as important as finding out why a relatively new, inexperienced driver was alone on the road pulling a double trailer. Somebody is at fault here, but I am not so quick to point my finger at the driver. There is more to this than the colour of the man’s skin, people. Slow down and get your facts straight before pointing fingers.
In the past, there was always the assumption that a technologically advanced society would be a peaceful society, but we are proving that assumption to be wrong in a very big way. I think that it is very possible that our technology advanced too fast for our brains to keep up. People are getting far more information than they can handle and their minds often rebel with fear and hate. In fact, people are getting so much unfiltered information that, more often than not, many are reacting to false or badly skewed information rather than dig deep enough to find the true story.
We are living in a whole new world from fifty years ago and it is up to us to decide if it will be a better world or worse. I know our new reality is a fast paced one, but that fast pace may be our downfall, because we are still working with brains that are set to a much slower pace. We can no longer afford to take what we see at face value, no matter how much it stirs our emotions. Slow down and do your research before reacting to what you see on social media. Take time to learn what you can about the world and the people around you before reacting to what someone posts about them on social media. It is often as easy as doing a Google search and comparing information. You may see things through different eyes.
Let me tell you a story about someone I met about ten or fifteen years ago. This was before I was told that I should hate and fear Muslims. There was a girl working in the local grocery store who I felt was the perfect cultural blend for Canada. She combined designer jeans and sweater with a hijab. At that time I knew very little about her culture or beliefs. What I did know was that she was great cashier, very friendly and had good customer service, and with a minimal amount of teasing would let loose with the sweetest giggle. There were several men, myself included, who made it our duty to draw out that giggle. To this day, she is my example of a Muslim immigrant.
My first example of Syrian refugees was at an open house at the Mosque on the south side of Winnipeg. This was at the beginning of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) scare, when everyone was in a panic over Syrian refugees coming into Canada. The Mosque opened its doors as a way of connecting with people who didn’t know about the Muslim religion and to show us that they were human beings too. I took advantage of the opportunity and met my first refugees, two young boys and their mother. One of the boys had lost his leg to a landmine. They looked more scared than scary. I told them not to worry. Canadians aren’t all as bad as the ones talking on the news.
My final bit of advice to you is this: stop letting people on social media do your thinking for you! Everyone has an agenda and everyone has an opinion, it is time for you to find your own. Before succumbing to the normalizing of hate that seems to be taking over our society, try to understand the people around you. And before taking something you read on social media at face value, remember my personal favourite social media quote, which is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, just because there is a picture with a quote next to it.” Think about it.