Terms of Endearment
Friendships were earlier based on common likes:
Before the advent of Social Media, friendships were typically formed at school, college, workplace or social clubs. Most friendships were formed around common likes. Ideology or ones world view of “Social,Political,Economic or Cultural” (SPEC) issues did not play an important role in either forming or sustaining a friendship. People of different or even opposing world views continued their friendship without any need to talk about it with one another except perhaps during elections or other extraordinary events. Even though common values did play a crucial part in sustaining relationships, they always operated at a subconscious level without ever having to be stated or recognised explicitly. Friends who had common likes simply drifted apart when they sub consciously realised the differences in their value systems. Likewise friends with similar value systems became closer.
Ideology is now playing a key role :
Availability of various platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp and exposure to 24 by 7 news has resulted in a change in social behaviour bringing out a compulsive need to react and opine to the various events in a day. One’s world views on these issues is reflected in the comments and shares and consequently over a period of time one’s “Ideology” is laid bare for all to see and judge you by.
Thus “Ideology” has also become an important factor for forming, sustaining and at times destroying friendships.
Old Friendships are Dying :
Firstly there is a loss of objectivity amongst your friends who were earlier principled in their stands. Since one has an eclectic set of friends from various backgrounds and degrees of intimacy, the need to be “politically correct” is over taking the need for a principle-centric stand whenever a news item is shared or commented upon. This has led to a phenomenon of “selective outrages” that are not based on principles you stand for but how you would like your self to be perceived by others.
Secondly, the ability to accept one’s mistakes on public platforms has also become a rarity, whereas hitherto conceding in private was a norm amongst friends.
Lastly, discussions on Social Media are mostly held at a superficial level and no effort is made for deeper research and discovery of the merits of the opposing point of view. In other words debates do not reach logical conclusion and end with a ‘lets agree to disagree’.
This loss of objectivity, inability to accept one’s mistakes and reluctance to make an effort to research and resolve an issue, reduces the respect one had for a friend and friendships are now leading to a slow and painful death.
Key Values for a Meaningful Engagement:
This then set me thinking on the Key Values that I would like to see in my friends or for that matter any intellectual before I engage with them on any ideological debates. These are :
- Objectivity: Does the intellectual have an established track record of comments or shares about events based on his or her principles and not selectively based on the ideology of the players involved? While one is not expected to comment every time a certain type of event occurs, a general evaluation based on his or her shares would give an idea as to whether one is debating an objective intellectual or partisan ideologue.
- Rigour: Is he or she willing to make the requisite effort to discover new facts that can potentially challenge the established position? Often times ‘Ideologues’ are simply lazy. They have a shoot and scoot kind of outlook and when accosted with facts or sources for further research, they tend to be dismissive. Since most issues that there is a disagreement on, have a long history and is an effect of several causes going back into the past, it is important to be rigorous and do proper research before formulating a view.
- Courage: The alacrity with which news suiting a particular view point is shared, is not in equal display when the news is proven to be wrong ; no effort is made to admit their mistake in posting it in the first place. In other words they do not have the ability to ‘eat crow’. They lack the requisite courage. For me courage is an important value in deciding whether to have a debate or not.
- Humility: Lastly does he or she recognise and respect expertise in any other intellectual? Are they willing to refer a debate for arbitration to such subject matter experts and also upfront accept the finality of their judgement ? Unless one is humble and is able to surrender to the expertise of the more knowledgeable; debating is a futile excersise as one is only arguing with an ego and not with a open mind that is desirous of learning new things or discovering the truth.
Shishupala Test :
Even with friends with whom you share similar likes or ideology, there can be a range of disagreements within which you should operate. Some friends also indulge in making personal /sly comments or criticise your motive rather than the action or the argument itself. Given the non stop commentary from all us on Social Media, we develop a tendency to pass judgements on others the moment their view on an incident does not match ours. This in turn leads to a self reinforcing and vicious spiral, wherein everything they say and do from then onwards is viewed with suspicion.
I consciously avoid doing this as a 100% match is never possible and I also adopt a ‘Shishupala” test wherein I do not judge the other person for every comment he or she makes but wait enough number of times before deciding whether it’s a fundamental trait in them which you do not agree with.
The exception to the above Shishupala test is ‘abuse’ or ‘lies’ or patently mala fide acts which clearly demonstrate a deeper flaw in the character of such a person.
New Framework for Engagement:
The interplay between the three variables of Ideology, Likes and Key values is given in this schematic:
The first two options are where two friends either have common likes or share a common ideology but do not have the Key Values outlined above. Such relationships are only transactional in nature either as friends or as fellow ideology travellers. One cannot have meaningful debates with them.
In the third instance as they share common likes and ideology, they have a deeper relationship but since they do not have the Key Values, they cannot have any meaningful debates.
In the fourth and fifth instance, since they do have the Key Values, there is a deeper bond that develops as they are able to meaningfully engage on various issues even though they do not share the same likes or ideology.
Lastly when all the three; likes, ideology and the Key Values are present in a relationship, it becomes special.
These then are the new terms of engagement for me.
So friends of various ideological hues, bring it on ! Establish yourself on the above 4 Key Values. We can then engage and debate on any subject without acrimony; endearment results automatically when knowledge and truth is pursued this way.