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Shrinking the echo chamber and building mutuality
Oh, the echo chamber. That thing that grows bigger as the Facebook algorithm grows smarter. I think you know what I’m talking about. All of a sudden your Facebook and Twitter feed are filled with people who think exactly like you. And it’s not just the algorithm that makes it happen to us, we often do as well. I have been known to unfollow people on Facebook and Twitter whose ideas and opinions irritate me. When I do that, not only does my echo chamber grow, so does theirs. When we are surrounded by people who consider the world just like we do we lose to ability to relate, to empathize, and even to love. I don’t particularly have a commitment to making sure everyone in the universe lives in harmony, but I would like to do that in the family, in the Body of Christ.
It doesn’t help that the media continues to polarize us. The upcoming election is polarizing even among people within their so-called political parties. One of my friends recently requested that everyone unfollow her who was voting for a candidate she opposed. It feels good to be around people that think like us, it’s affirming, it’s convenient. But I think we know there is a weakness to it.
It plays into a binary myth, one that categorizes people as either/or. It puts people into a box, dehumanizing them. It's Bernie Sanders vs. Donald Trump when people are obviously more complex that political caricatures. And moreover, it gives us the flawed impression that we are right, that no one could disagree and if they do, well, they must be stupid. As one writer put it aptly: “The other side is not dumb.”
I’m not even sure there really is another side because I think we are in this world together. I think we need to keep listening to each other, as opposed to cutting off, withdrawing, and assuming that all of the intelligent people in the world are with us. Our extreme behavior can be off-putting, self-centered, self-important.
This isn’t a call to some compromised boring version of moderation. But it’s a practice in relating, listening, and moving together with God toward his destiny for the whole world. It's about mutual transformation fueled by the truth and love of Jesus. Our world isn’t just supposed to be some boring average of the extremes, it’s supposed to be entirely different, probably not summarized in one camp or the other. Again, this isn’t about being balanced, but it’s about assuming that our own stratified perspectives aren’t complete.
Nor am I calling for some odd version “privacy,” where we keep our thoughts and opinions to ourselves without engaging in a discourse or dialogue where truth might be found. I’m not talking about being polite either. I’m talking about listening, building up, loving others.
It seems to me that the world wants to divide us into controllable “sides” and interest groups. They aren’t leading us to be mutual, to be the body, to work together. The smaller we are, the more the powers can impose on us. Our cooperation and mutuality creates an alternative.
This isn’t the first time in the world this is happening. As we’ve been studying at our Sunday meetings, the church on Corinth was divided up similar. Paul calls them to be united as one body in chapter 12, despite their many differences and gifts, and he further says that love is the truest gift of them all in chapter 13, before he tries to help those with prophecy and the gifts of tongues sort out of their differences in chapter 14.
When it comes down to it, Paul says those that build the church and build the body are doing the right thing. We aren’t just trying to bring attention to ourselves or block out the people that disagree with us. We are trying to building each other up. And not just because it’s the right thing to do! We need mutual encouragement and edification to survive in a world that tears us apart. I don’t think we need to merely “tolerate” each other, indifferent about our perspectives and opinions, but we need to engage in a kind of dialogue that’s both truthful and loving, inviting and convincing.
I hope that we can be the radical difference in the world. I hope we are listeners and lovers, known for our rich dialogue, and our deeply truthful conclusions. Anyone can preach to the choir, and on the Internet it is not hard to find those that agree with you. What is really transformational though is doing something real as a body together amidst our diversity. It’s more than just teaching cooperation. I’m not sure we can really follow God unless we do it together, despite our differences.