Constructive, responsible and mature dialogue for forging understanding
By Selam Ethiopia 1-5-19
Recently, I came across a very fascinating article @ awate.com, entitled “Towards a mature and meaningful exchange”, in reference to the type of engagement among the Eritrean Community globally. Let me begin by admitting that I am not familiar with the community’s exchange, however, I found the content of the article very relevant to our own situation where we Ethiopians lack mature, civilized and meaningful dialogue and exchange between and among ourselves. I decided to modify it as constructive, responsible and mature dialogue. Constructive because what we have been observing right now is largely destructive exchange. Equally our exchange does not bear any sense of responsibility. And at same time to a great extent it lacks maturity and civility. Of course, I should be very careful with the type of conclusions I am making, as I don’t want to suﬀer from making hasty generalizations based on a limited observations.
In an era of easy and unlimited access to information and social media, use of the platform in a responsible way for a meaningful and constructive exchange is of paramount importance. In order to forge harmony, peaceful coexistence, tolerance and accommodation with one another, wise and careful use of the medium is very vital. Apparently, what we observe is quite the opposite. No society is perfect, nor is any government problem free. If one critically observes the type of exchange among many Ethiopian social media users, one ﬁnds it highly polarized, extremist opinions, very un-Ethiopian where there is no middle ground and balance at all. It has become a source of worry for many families and communities. This unproductive and many times destructive type of exchange is adding fuel to the ﬁre. In our case we should stop both adding the fuel and also the ﬁre. The country has already enough challenges to tackle. At the end of the day nobody will beneﬁt from such an approach. Only those who wish our failure will be pleased. Our exchanges are full of sentiments, emotions and sensations. Many resources are wasted in leaking our old wounds. That is the enemy of our progress and our future. The only reason we should raise the past is to learn lessons, to make sure past mistakes are not repeated and also to extent possible to ensure justice and accountability. Unnecessary dwellings in the past cannot enhance our forward movement.
The purpose of any exchange should, in my humble opinion, be to create an understanding and help us address divergent opinions in a civilized manner. Our exchange should aim at not scoring points but to put our arguments on scientiﬁc basis, based on facts, evidence, reason and logic. Any debate not based on truth and facts will lead us to nowhere and will be misleading. That is what is happening right now among many of social media users and followers.
In the article I referred to above, the writers identiﬁed about four pitfalls that explain lack of mature and meaningful exchanges. These are: and I quote
“Failure to see issues within their relevant social and historical context, Addressing complex issues superﬁcially, without taking the time to investigate and analyze, Making sweeping generalizations and failing to consider the divergent group dynamics, Cherry-picking facts to advance certain narratives and positions”, end of quote.
Context matters. It is a very important ingredient to conduct meaningful and mature exchange. What we observe nowadays is to pick some element of the subject without fully taking the context within which statements are made. This, without doubt, could lead to a total misunderstanding and could be a source of conﬂict. The way it happens is that we are tempted to pick some part of the whole speech where it is sensational and then agitate many inappropriately. Let me illustrate it with some points.
In one of his public appearance PM Abiy used yeken Jiboch to explain a given situation” የቀን ጅቦች”, (daytime hyenas). He later on explained the context within which he used the term and for what purpose and what to explain. Never at all it was his intention nor was it meant to ﬁnger point at some members a certain community. In the context he used the term, daytime hyenas are there in every community. As far as I understood, he did not attribute it to any particular group. However, many took it out of the context the term was used and created serious discord among various groups and individuals. I think we should be contended with the explanation given by the person who used the term in the ﬁrst place because it is only him who knows the context and the meaning.
Again in one of his parliament addresses, the PM equated that some of the government actions to that of terrorist. As far I see it, there was also a context to it. The MP who provoked the issue was opposing the release of what she called terrorists and enumerated some of the actions. If that action make them terrorists then similar actions by the government agents make the government also a terrorist he replied. That was the intention I understood. That is how and why the context is very imperative. The essence of the matter is that the context in which the speaker makes a point and the interpretation the listener gives is likely to be diﬀerent. The late PM Meles Zenawi once was asked about the national ﬂag. And his reply was Flag is a piece of cloth, what is important is the thought behind the ﬂag. Nobody wanted to take the whole context in summation but cherry picked the sensational and emotional part of his argument. Therefore, unless one takes context into account and consideration then one could just end up in a totally diﬀerent perspective of things. I hope I am not misunderstood as if I am defending the PMs. No not at all. That is not my intention. I was just trying to illustrate how context is important.
Investigate and analyze
The second aspect of the problem identiﬁed was lack of investigative and analytical approach to complex issues. One problem we are facing as society is our simpliﬁcation of complex political issues. Lack of rational, reasonable and evidence based debate does not lead to mature and sober dialogue. The absence of these values certainly leads to undemocratic exchange and hence in turn leads to conﬂict and friction among groups or even families or individuals. It so appears that in our society, the culture of gossip, hearsay and lack of veriﬁcation and ﬁltering what reaches our ears has become rampant and it tends to be a very serious political and social problem. Without evidence many have been labelled as criminals, thieves, corrupts, unethical etc. This is unfortunate. This is true even among our political leaders and other elites in society. Worse is there is no strong enforcement of law that holds those who tell a lie to account for defamation. Morality is on a decline. Individual’s right for good refutation and image is being violated in broad day time. Neither law, nor our vales sanction those who willfully abuse the good names of others. Clearly there is a need to pose as a society to critically examine where we have gone wrong and where we are heading to. Governments and leaders at all levels also have responsibility to put laws against the abuse of media to damage our interaction as community. Schools are duty bound to mold our children on morality and civic education. Religious leaders and institutions also have spiritual responsibility to shape their followers to behave in good faith. I am amused by the mix of politics and religion in our society. Our religious leaders, if they could really inﬂuence their followers the job is done. So, if the political leaders and traditional leaders did their job. Our values to listen to and respect our leaders at all levels have been eroded unfortunately. How do we restore it is a big question that requires answers from all of us.
It is so easy and simple to make generalizations and hasty conclusion on the basis of simple and very limited observations. Making generalization, requires serious thinking and evidence based analysis. If one person errs, we rush to generalize it as if it represented the community, language or culture one belonged to. That is absolutely wrong. It appears that many groups are falling victims to such unsubstantiated conclusions, generalized judgements. In the current political situation where identity based politics is pursued, an act by one person is considered as if it represented the entire community the person belonged to. This is a bad trend that is tearing us apart. Each one of us should carry our own cross and there is no justiﬁcation to pass on my sin to my brother or sister or to my ethnic group. The continent of Africa is the case in point that suﬀers from sweeping generalizations. Any act of conﬂict in a given region is always taken to represent the image of the entire continent as if it unstable. Refraining from such conclusion would save us from unhealthy exchanges and utmost care must be taken to avoid it at any cost. Recent exchanges on social medial depict that an act by an individual is taken as if it were that of a community the individual belonged to. Such generalizations are not helpful and at same are absolutely meaningless. It is such unrepresentative generalizations that are creating polarization among our community. Therefore care must be taken. Rational, Reasonable, Evidence based exchange Rational, reasonable and evidence based exchanges are precisely what we are lacking. These are essential characteristics of democratic exchanges. In return, they are signs of maturity and civility and profoundly distinguishes a mature democracy from that of undemocratic one. Irrational approach in personal life, in group or in politics or social life does not lead to meaningful understanding. In the absence of rational, reasonable and evidence based exchange many things went wrong in our society. Many innocent people have been victimized and alienated from society. In today’s world of unregulated social media each one us has become a news maker and breaker. Both the producer and consumer have responsibility to produce and consume evidence based information. The domino eﬀect of such irresponsible act is huge and the damage it is causing is incalculable. Let each one of us behave maturely and take responsibility in what we write and disseminate. Let display mature, responsible and caring attitude to one another and follow the Golden Rule.