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Understanding and caring in a world of alternative facts

You are living in a world in which almost everyone who interacts with you, outside of your formative years, wants something from you. And that wanting filtrates intents, thoughts, words, actions and interactions, even at an unconscious level.

For certain reasons, in rural areas and “under-developed” parts of the world, such a treatment is less pronounced than in densely populated metropolitan areas. Part of it could be a manifestation of the so-called “survival efficiency”, part of it stemming from a deepening distrust we hold for other fellow human beings.

Observe the people who have been interacting with you.

The unaware or less aware would want your praises (1).
The more aware but less sophisticated would want your money or your endorsement to help them make money (2).
The more sophisticated would want your time (3).
The most sophisticated would want your belief (4).

Narcissists and fame-seekers through association fall into (1). They are everywhere on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. At times, vanity and ignorance have led me to behave like one of these people. But I have learnt that vanity is, well, so vain.
Most commercial pursuits fall into (2).
Some biggest beneficiaries of the long tail economy fall into (3).
Many governments, religious organisations, and myriads of causes fall into (4).

What makes a platform like Facebook so powerful is that it could ask for your praises, your money, your time and your belief all at the same time. Whether that power could be used to benefit or gradually degenerate the collective human psyche is actually up to each of us, the users. But that argument deserves an article on its own.

Very few people who interact with you do not want anything from you. Even if they do, they probably just want you to call or message them now and then, because they want to hear how you are going and if you are ok. These people probably are your family, your close friends, and relative strangers who are very aware of their own and others’ biases and motivations.

In a world of “alternative facts” and “very fake news”, we are living witnesses of an era of eroding trust. How can we trust someone whom we do not really know in this day and age, especially when in most interactions, we know that the other person, or organisation, is interacting with us only because they want something from us, not because they genuinely care about us? Certain folks see no problems in this treatment. They may argue that apart from family and friends, everything else should be treated as transactional. Taking such a point of view, the world probably would have never seen a Nelson Mandela, a Mahatma Gandhi, or a Desmond Doss. And I would argue that all of us would have been much worse off as a species.

As this global phenomenon of eroding trust plays out, each of us probably will withdraw back into familiar territory, consisting solely of family and close friends, those whom we could trust unconditionally, those who when they ask us “How are you?” does not always follow with “By the way, I need something from you.”

But as we withdraw back into familiarity, we would tend to reject differences and those who are different from us. Differences in looks, differences in beliefs, differences in values, they all suddenly seem very scary and threatening. And you can guess where that path may lead humanity.

In my life, I have received generosity and kindness from many strangers – people who were different from me, the people whom I barely knew then, most of whom I still barely know now. If I had had to “earn my trust” before these folks would lift their fingers to help, I probably would never have been helped. Their unconditional generosity and kindness have helped me survive turbulent times and inspired me to be a better person. For that, I am forever grateful.

This imminent act of withdrawal has a deep impact on how society evolves. From the perspective of humanity, bigotry and discrimination are never the right answers, even in this age of any-means-to-an-end. But basic qualities that have emerged triumphant over and over again in the history of the human race – understanding and caring – could well be. And we are all capable of understanding and caring, in our own ways.

📸 Filip Mroz