Anonymity, Workers' Comp and the Death of Civil Discourse
Civil discourse in the workers' compensation industry can at times be a challenge. The adversarial and sometimes acrimonious nature of the work we do doesn't always bring the best out of people. Still, many people in the industry toil daily to provide necessary services while keeping communications professional and respectful. Understanding and respecting those with different viewpoints is essential if the system is going to continue to function.
Unfortunately, we are being challenged by a broader societal trend. In this day and age of striving for ever greater diversity, it seems that diversity of thought is the one area that is seeing less tolerance and acceptance than ever before. Especially in the realm of politics and political philosophy.
Personally, I blame social media, which I have often said is anything but social.
I have many friends and associates from across the political spectrum. Sometimes we get into discussions on topics on which we disagree. Despite our differences in these areas, we still like and respect each other. These “in person” discussions have an intriguing attraction, as the discourse provides an opportunity to think, analyze and grow; often using opinions and valid arguments that have traditionally been outside our comfort zone. Personally, I enjoy a good stimulating argument, and it probably shows. I once had a person, in a discussion related to our Homeowners Association when I was on the board of directors, tell me “you always argue like you're right.” My response was, “Of course. Who the hell argues like they're wrong?!” Still, some good compromises came out of that particular discussion, and everyone benefitted from the exercise.
Social media platforms, particularly Facebook, are different stories. These faceless and impersonal platforms allow people to be harsher and more judgmental than they would likely be in person. For many using those systems today, opposing political ideology is not to be countered with logic and reason, but rather slayed like the demon many now perceive it to be. For a growing segment of our population, it is no longer fully possible to disagree without also being disagreeable.
There are a number of my “Facebook friends” with whom I staunchly disagree from a political perspective. I've never unfriended or unfollowed any of them. I should note we also haven't changed each other's mind. On anything. One day recently, as I was furiously tapping away at the keyboard, my wife asked me what I was doing. I replied, “I'm changing people's minds on Facebook.”
A hearty laugh was had by all. Well, Ok. I laughed, anyway.
Nonetheless, unfriending or blocking people on social media over personal opinions has become rather commonplace. This virtual trend is extending into our physical realm as well. The practice of disowning people's entire existence because of a disagreement in one area is alarming. It is a sign that our minds are closing during an era where we generally profess more openness and acceptance. It is a mistake that will ultimately make us weaker as a society through this self-imposed philosophy based isolation.
I received an anonymous letter last week that professed profound disappointment in my political views. Sent from Pensacola, Fla., it was short and to the point. It read:
I have lost so much respect for you through your tweets. I can't imagine a person in your position would publicize his political leanings. You seem like such a nice, sincere person, I can't believe you would support such a narcissistic human being like the president. Your take on the virus was typical of a right winger, and proven to be wrong. I will avoid any segment of a conference at which you are speaking. I am so disappointed.
I normally don't put much credence into anonymous letters or messages. The cowardice of anonymity generally dulls the essence of the message that is being conveyed. Still, it bothered me as it was a classic example of how we are no longer broadening our horizons through civil debate. We are instead embracing a world where we seek continual confirmation bias and block out thoughts (and people) that don't walk in lockstep with our own.
I was surprised by the letter, if only due to the fact that I am not very active on Twitter. Besides posting a few workers' comp news articles and bitching at Comcast I really don't tweet that much. I actually had to go back and find the two or three tweets that might have set this person off. My twitter feed is otherwise a fairly benign place. If this person was a Facebook friend, they would be downright apoplectic if they saw what was on my wall.
As for supporting the president, yes, I am politically conservative. I didn't think that was a real secret here. As for being wrong on the virus, I did write that the sun will continue to rise, and the world was not ending. So far, that seems on point. We also closed our offices before any stay at home order was issued, and self-isolated for two months. I practice social distancing and sanitize and wash my hands frequently. We are re-opening the office gradually, enforcing more social distancing and checking temperatures daily. I'm not sure where I was wrong, except that I am a “right winger,” and therefore that makes me wrong at every level.
That is why it is apparently the proper action to avoid a person with whom you disagree on a topic, by forever avoiding their opinions on every topic. It is a very enlightened viewpoint (not).
This letter saddened me, not for myself but for the person who sent it. It is a prime example of a societal trend to broadly condemn and categorize based on a single area of disagreement. He is conservative, and therefore cannot be a nice and sincere person. It is a myopic vision and unhealthy viewpoint to have.
And if the person who wrote that letter was disappointed in me before, they surely are more disheartened now.
This is not, by the way, an affliction limited only to those on the left. It is, ironically, something that both sides of the political spectrum have in common. The tendency to condemn and deny is growing, enabled by the relative anonymity of the web and social media.
We are witnessing the death of civil discourse, and a degradation of the art of interaction. As we become more judgmental and intolerant as a society, that will make our jobs in workers' comp all the more difficult to manage.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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