Gillette’s recent ad “The Best Men Can Be” has garnered millions of views and as many opinions at this point. Much has been said supporting and denouncing Gillette’s decision to make the video. But those aren’t the elements of the discussion I find most fascinating. I’m interested in what this entire exchange says about the way we state our beliefs and talk about, well… anything.
We as a culture tend to receive the positions of other people as a refutation of our own beliefs. We are constantly processing everything through the complex filter of our own lives.
Does this agree or oppose? If I don’t agree… what does this say about me?
Our first response is rarely to ask if these positions can co-exist. It seems the amplified soapbox of the internet has inflamed our ability to have a rational discussion.
We have foregone tolerance where harmony is not possible.
There exists an assumption that all experiences different than our own must be wrong. Only our sentiment and feeling is valid; one person’s point must inherently and automatically negate every other. And unless you are mentioned for what you believe, you are being deliberately left out or ignored. “But that’s not what mine is like” is indeed part of our gut reaction, but it shouldn’t be the only determining factor on argument validity.
To make any statement today without qualifiers is to risk inadvertently starting a wildfire. Look for it. You will see it the way we write today. It usually sounds something like:
I’m not saying…
Now, of course, this doesn’t include…
We create in anticipation of the backlash because it will come. Even if somebody loves everything you do, they are more likely to speak up publicly when they disagree with you. Which makes it very difficult to make rational arguments today. Arguments that do not include every single potential objection, omission or conflict risk preventing outrage.
What happened that we can no longer read or observe someone’s point of view without feeling assaulted? Have we become more sensitive or insecure?
Our outrage addiction has increased at the rate of our responses, leaving us no time to process. We throw ourselves into the fray before topics lose steam and thus public interest. How can any of us change our minds if we immediately shout down anything we do not agree with?
Is it even possible anymore for any of us to change our minds?
Which begs another question. How can you make a case for a position and make sure it is truly heard? It’s easy to keep pulling on this thread until the fabric completely unravels. Is anything worth talking about? Should we speak up at all? Has the world become a vacuum?
Yes, it’s severe but it’s not irrational.
We must look at both the signal and the reception. Did Gillette’s ad miss the point? Were millions of people wrong for interpreting Gillette’s message the way they did? I’m not sure blame is the appropriate response here. Questioning with the goal of understanding is a more productive approach than leveling accusations.
It is why we must be so careful today when we communicate. Giving thought to what we are saying and how we are saying it. Rereading and reviewing over and over again. This will not be done by everybody. And it will not prevent all mistakes in judgment and communication.
It is a start though.
We have all (myself included) become “experts” at extrapolating. We take a single data point and create assumptions based on little information from which we can posture and comment. However, there is so little to be gleaned from a single data point.
Which brings us back to Gillette. Was their video intended to be a catalytic moment or a mission statement? Surely they anticipated attention but maybe not the negative sentiment. Maybe they knew there would be a turbulent beginning to this campaign. Maybe they really are in it for the long haul.
It is the cost of speaking publicly on anything today; being reflective enough to know whether your cause is worth fighting for in the long term. Even as our world changes from minute to minute it does not always do so without friction. There is so much work to do and issues will divide people risking, replying and committing to their beliefs.
Positive change will not come only from defending our beliefs, but in seeking to understand why others believe differently. It remains to be seen if we will be open to that challenge.
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