If you have no intention of ever persuading someone to your point of view, a good approach would be to stamp a label on them. We’re all guilty of categorizing the people in our lives and in our communities. The rambunctious child, the drunk uncle, the bossy aunt, the veritable schoolyard bully of our childhood. We attach labels to help us understand the sometimes impossible complexity of human relationships. By creating identities for people, we put them into cubby holes without needing to justify how that opinion was first formed. Fascist, marxist, bleeding-heart liberal; once these labels have been affixed, you can forget about continuing to exchange ideas.
Our human interactions before social media took over our lives seem to have been simpler. When you are standing in front of a person and can see the expression on their face, most people will instinctively self-moderate their tone and vocabulary. As the majority of humanity transitioned to online conversations and interactions, it became easier to write off people and entire groups with labels that we might not have had the “courage” to use before (and broadcast them to be viewed by thousands at a time).
It’s hard to remember a time before social media gave people the unfettered opportunity of name-calling. We have become categorical labelers.
When we insult and then label people whose values we don’t share, it doesn’t create the conditions for dialogue or understanding. In fact, it encourages our “opponents” to dig in their heels and refuse to listen and then go on a counter-offensive. Deepening polarization has led to a toxic environment in Armenian society and indeed in much of the world.
Soon after the Velvet Revolution, more specifically after the December 2018 election, political forces who had been ruling the country for almost two decades, their political allies and supporters, began utilizing tools to discredit the new government. That’s politics. After suffering such a humiliating defeat, everyone, especially the new administration, should have been prepared for the onslaught.
The new administration wasn’t. To be fair, the severe criticism and labeling by proxies of the former regime, often stretched and twisted the truth. The rulebook was thrown out and everyone was fair game. “Pashinyan and his team are ready to sell-out Artsakh” and thereby the Armenian nation. They were called traitors, weak, inexperienced, unpatriotic… their supporters were called zombies. And instead of ignoring and getting on with the business of governing, of rebuilding trust and confidence, members of the new administration got defensive. Both sides accused the other of manipulating the truth and disseminating misinformation, of creating fake profiles on social media platforms to attack the other side.
Supporters of Pashinyan’s government tried to shut down any criticism, fair or unjustified, by opponents who were in turn labeled as counter-revolutionaries. Radical fringe groups supporting the former administration tried to create the illusion that the country was coming apart at the seams, that things had never been so dire and they used everything in their arsenal to discredit, instigate and provoke the new administration. They leveled accusations not only against elected state officials, but also private citizens sympathetic to Pashinyan’s government, labeling them as dangerous elements who were ready to sell out the country. The labeling soon led to threats of physical harm.
How do we fix this? We start by listening more and listening better. We stop trading insults. We stop using baseless assumptions and stereotypes to drive the conversation. We learn that disagreements or differences in value systems or approaches are not the things that divide us, but if utilized properly, can help us build a diverse, strong and more resilient state.
Last Week's Editorial