Communication: Perception vs. (?) Reality

I had an interesting and incredibly revealing discourse on FB today. In brief, I posted a meme, which was naturally oversimplified and declarative, and spend some significant time in a mix of defense, self-doubt, reassurances, curiosity, and explanations. My initial purpose was to promote the benefits of nature in healing. If the meme has stopped with that it would have been fine. The reason this meme went too far, and why I should have not reposted it, was that it vilified pills as “shit” in direct contrast to depicting nature as a wonderful and fully successful antidepressant.

And the world of my connections rose in defense of people who need medication to maintain a decent quality of life. And they were right to do so, just as I was rightly taken aback by the responses. I was very glad that most of the offended still managed to comment in a respectful way. No one called me an idiot or any other names, and no one “unfriended” me. They all spoke about the meme being inappropriate, and how labeling drugs as “shit” perpetuates the idea that people are taking drugs because they are lazy and haven’t worked hard to change their lifestyle, or otherwise fix the problem.

They were reacting to a visual with two exceptionally dumbed down statements, indicating a forest is healthy and pills are shit. I reposted this meme because I perceived the photo of pills as a representation of the overuse of drugs, the uninformed prescriptions, the over-the-counter abuses and the drug company influence growth though direct advertising and through lobbying doctors and hospitals, all things that I feel undermine the actual needs and values of prescription medicine. I did not see it as indicating all drugs are bad, or that people relying on medication are bad. I revamped the meme to try to illustrate this, included below, and I hope my friends understand my true interest: to promote our connection to nature as a part of complete healthcare, a part that doctors often do not include in treatments.

The original meme

My (hopefully) improved meme

Some things I learned in this process –

Memes turn things into us vs. them, black vs. white, this vs. that. This puts people always on opposing sides, which they then must defend. We see this definitively in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, when so many immediately cry out “All Lives Matter” as if BLM somehow means no one else can matter at the same time. I will try very hard to refrain from reposting any such visuals going forward, because the world is not like this. The world we live in, and the solutions we need, are complex, multilayered, and different in each circumstance. And everyone can matter all ar once. We need to problem-solve within an integrative process and with the knowledge that there is no one answer, or one approach, or one silver bullet resolution. Our language and our memes must portray that.

The solutions we need are complex, multi-layered, and different in each circumstance.

It is easy to think the worst of someone especially in the short-hand style of social media. I think I have presented myself as an inclusive thinker, one who recognizes the complexity of each situation, but when I post a meme or make a statement that implies only two options and favors one over the other, I am painted with that same brush, and it undermines all my past communications.

People are naturally defensive. They immediately assume I intended the post to tell them they are doing something wrong. Why is that? Why can’t we read a gross generalization and calmly say to others, or even to ourselves, “that makes sense in the general, and it does not apply to me because of this, this, and this”? We are in an age of incredibly unfair stereotyping and broad statements, which should teach us that these are merely sketches of reality, sketches we must maintain as fluid, allow to be tempered by common sense, and informed by experience. Instead we make them universal fact, or we spend all our time qualifying the statements down to the smallest iota of possible perception, both of which are unusable in the context of discussion and learning.

Access to nature is not yet commonly perceived as influencing health in any way. Even the enlightened friends I am blessed with seemed to dismiss nature’s influence out of hand. They did not know there are completed studies tracking significant and replicable positive effects on mental health, stress levels, heart rate, speed of healing and more. We have a lot of work to do to get to the point where access to nature is not dismissed as an unreal touchy-feely way to guilt people about taking too many pills. This is only one part of why people were so quickly defensive. It is almost as if we cannot bring ourselves to value what we are given by mother nature “for free”.

Asking questions is a secret weapon that needs to become less secret. If anyone had asked me “why did you feel this meme was important to share” I probably would have come earlier to a personal reassessment of the image and what it conjured. We all should ask more questions, and certainly refrain from accusations of intent. I did not ask “did this offend you” as most of the posts told me that right out. What I could have asked is “how did this offend you” and “is there a way I could portray my interest in the healing power of nature and generalize about my concern regarding our societal overuse of drugs, without creating offence?” and “tell me what you know about access to nature and healing”. Any of these questions would have forged connections, which we need. They would have illustrated to my friends that I am always open to learning more, and that I respect their experiences as different and yet as valuable as my own. And I would have personally grown as well as strengthened my community ties.

Finally, the best friends I have are the ones that challenge me, while respecting me. I hope I am one of those friends to others.




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