To offend or to be offended? That is the question.

We are being manipulated in morally ambiguous arguments about which one is “better”. The extreme reactions and debates that monopolize our news cycles are polarizing, unresolved spectacles. They’re distractions promoted for entertainment value at best.

Black Lives Matter! Cops Lives Matter! White Lives Matter! All Lives Matter!

There is a divisiveness in our chosen mantras that runs counter to our intent; assuming the use of these affirmations are with respect for and not at the expense of another. Although, even in hate there is well-meaning intent undermined by and hidden behind self-limiting beliefs about one’s place in the world.

I truly believe that most people are good at their core and mean to bring no harm to the next person. Not that any of us are without flaws or shortcomings but inherently we all are in pursuit of the same basic desires — food, clothing and shelter. Using these as a starting point, we should consider what hinders our ability to remain humanly common and civil in our discourse. I would say it all comes down to fear.

The duality of fear is a powerful tool used to manipulate people. Through religious rhetoric, war mongering and money woes, there’s a consistent flow of messaging that instills a perpetual state of disillusion and distrust in society, among those who feel the most vulnerable and with the least access to power. We listen to the voices coming through loudly and frequently in print, on the radio and on every screen imaginable, stirring up angst and anxieties about what “potentially” can be taken away from us. We are inundated with deliberate sound bites of information that seldom provide the necessary context to validate or invalidate the message. Then we find ourselves regurgitating the most readily accessible phrases and statements to either “defend” ourselves against our aggressors or “justify” our aggressions against the “others”. That duality exists in every social-political-economic argument that keeps “us” at odds with each other.

This is evident in our expressed political views which have a way of denying or ignoring past and present realities. What we subscribe for one person, group or affiliation does not necessarily apply to the other; the benchmarks are set differently for what warrants reproach. In the absence of supporting information that provides an accurate, 360 degree view of circumstances, there’s usually an impassioned defense of what’s “right” behind our reasoning, or lack thereof.

There is an unreasonable expectation placed on the individuals we elect to public office. While they’re obligated to serve in the best interest of the general population, there’s no one individual — Democrat, Independent, Republican, Conservative, Liberal, Pro Life, Pro Gun, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Man, Woman, Straight, Gay, Transgender, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Baptist, Business Person, Career Politician or Social Activist, etc — who can fix all that is wrong or be all things to all people. Yet our judgement and disparagement of these individuals who represent alternating minority and majority sentiment, reflects how inconsiderate we are of each other.

We tend to be hypocrites, indiscriminately angry about select crimes, deviant behavior and “bad guys”. Our outrage is like the “Jack-in-a-box” toy I had as a child that would always startle me when it finally popped out as I could never guess the timing. I’m frequently surprised by what actually pisses some people off and what they remain silent about.

In this “anything goes” climate the tone and tenor of our expression, either for or against something, is noisy, incoherent and exacerbated by social media. Blunt and highly opinionated commentary ignores the rules of decorum and shows a lack of respect for opposite or alternate views. We appear to be more reactive than proactive and do more complaining about our problems than offering solutions that would see success for the collective. We would be well served adhering to some of the rules of conduct in the workplace or guiding principles of our proclaimed faiths and absolute moral codes.

We have allowed emotional responses to negate facts and for theories to trump actualities. There is an arrogance of ideals, selfishness and prejudices that precludes sound judgment for the sake of being “right” or just being heard in the argument. It’s the type of behavior that devolves any relationship between two parties into an endless cycle of finger-pointing that does not serve the whole and ends badly. Accountability and responsibility become mutually-exclusive, conveniently removing the context of circumstances, miscommunications and misunderstandings that inevitably fester and come to a head.

In the interest of being part of the solution and not the problem, we’d be careful of who and what we co-sign. We’d celebrate the greatness among us and ignore the mediocre. When what we bring attention and energy to expands, good or bad, it’s wise to use care in the way we choose to express our support or displeasure. That’s not to say that we should refrain from having “hard conversations” about behaviors and patterns of some that undermine the well-being of the whole. Nor is it to avoid criticism or debate of issues and topics that matter to particular members of the group. It’s to say that we must be aware of the members of the group and the ramifications of alienating or delegitimizing the voice of those whose perspective or experience is different. Certainly insults, derogatory remarks and sweeping characterizations directed towards the selected “them” reflects poorly on the self-proclaimed arbiter of righteousness who's passing judgment.

Our primal survival instinct is to protect the well-being of our tribes. We are complex, social beings with varying tastes and preferences, who opt in or out of social activities as our worldview evolves. But the proliferation of social media presents an interesting conundrum — ”With such an enormous flow of information and access to other worldviews, what threat does my social network pose to my self-preservation and the well-being of those closest to me?”

This powerful medium of the 21st century allows people to be part of multiple “conversations” on a variety of topics, interacting with a wide range of other people across social-political-economic spectrums. Our family members, our past and present co-workers, our friends, our friends-of-friends and even total strangers in our “networks” choose to share information or simply be neutral observers of other people’s lives. Either way, it is in our nature to “belong” which creates a modern group dynamic with unprecedented benefits and detriments.

Our social networks represent us and we represent our social networks. Yes, we are accountable for the influence of our “friends” whether we like it or not. Time and technology has increased the diversity in our social circles along with the reach and depths of our dialogue. Hence, the nuances and effects of how we perceive or interpret each other’s lives is impactful. A quandary for many of us is the assumed “neutrality” of remaining silent, even when we disagree. Our news feeds and timelines reflect our interests and associations as well as our beliefs. In the same way that a “like”, “share”, “retweet” or “comment” says a lot, so too can choosing not to engage with the activity in our timelines. It’s no different from being selective about who you let come in your house and what they should or should not feel comfortable doing or saying there. It is presumed that if they did or said something there, you must be ok with it unless you say otherwise.

Freedom of speech, activism, political affiliation, religious belief and creative artistic expression all benefit from the power of social media to distill and amplify. But bias and ignorance masquerading as unapologetic support, justice or rights for one at the expense of the other is harmful to us all. We must be mindful of our words and images because our intentions can get lost in translation. Whether we offend unintentionally or are intentionally offended, the result is the same — we’ve dismissed the validity of another point of view.

The truth of the human spirit is rooted in love. Warmth, passion, attachment, adoration, and devotion define that truth and fuel human expression. It’s something we truly have the power to “give” to others. We must challenge ourselves to be human first, assume that we have more in common where it counts and let our differences be a matter of details that serve to make us interesting. There’s a singular life force that puts air in our lungs and blood in our veins no matter what the particular circumstances of our birth. Our consciousness keeps us in alignment with that force to the degree that we are aware of a higher power guiding us from one experience to the next. In turn we share with others towards the advancement of life. When we lose sight of that, we get lost in a disconnected, self-serving thought process, for the benefit of hearing our own voice rather than actually imparting something of value.

Besides, when there is literally one degree of separation between us, you never know who might be listening. How we communicate either builds or destroys the bridges that allow us to coexist. Those bridges begin to erode when reckless language or behavior insults more than it inspires. Fissures spread and we begin to fear the impending collapse of our familiar; the results of our lack of care; a self-inflicted calamity. Ultimately we suffer a tipping point of desperation when the only remedy for our internalized and deep-seated fears is confrontation and usually that is not in anyone’s best interest.

Let’s mind our social manners because much more than our likeability is at stake.