What Do We Believe About Each Other?

What do you believe about me?

This morning I reported for jury duty. I stood in line next to a man holding a copy of Freakonomics and a lady with an infant’s face set as the home screen on her smartphone. There is a woman in jeans and flip-flops standing next to a lady in a business suit and high heels. One fella is wearing a trucker hat, and one has a belt buckle and boots. Somebody is talking about the new pastor at church. Someone used to work in this courthouse. 

I don’t know these people and they don’t know me. 

Same as on the Internet, where people catch a glimpse of what is “liked” or shared or commented on, but in those glimpses, we don’t really see each other in our entirety. On Facebook, people comment with their assumptions, so in a sense it feels like standing in line at the courthouse seeing thought bubbles above peoples’ heads. Its as if these little bits of information we can see and hear lead to fully formed opinions about who is on "our" side and who is on “theirs.”

Yesterday was the Women’s March, and I followed along on social media, liking pictures of many beautiful, thoughtful, courageous friends in real life. They marched with their friends and their daughters, and they held up signs calling for equality and human rights. It was heartening. 

But by the end of the day, other friends in real life who don’t know my marching friends were posting about what the march meant- what "those people" stood for. One person proclaimed that they all marched for the right to murder unborn babies. Another said they marched for “hate.” Many said they marched because they were whiners who could not accept that their candidate had lost. I know my marching friends, and I don’t think any of them marched for the reasons assumed in any of the posts. 

Today at the courthouse, there are no thought bubbles. I wonder what these people assume when they catch a little glimpse of each other, or of me. I wonder if they make judgments on each others’ intelligence, morality, income, or religious affiliation. I wonder if they are afraid of one another, or if they feel angry or indignant. I wonder if they hate each other, or perhaps even if they assume common ground even where it doesn’t exist. 

Is it different when they can look into each others’ faces? Does it matter that most people here are minding their own business, making no comments about anyone else? What would it be like if we all walked around reading each other’s thoughts? Expressing our personal opinions? Would it be like social media? Would everyone feel free to ban together with a like-minded bunch of people and stand in opposition to anyone they perceived as the other side? Would we all divide into 2 groups and stand at opposite ends of this long hallway?

And if so, how would I know where to stand?

Posted on January 23, 2017 .