Bring Her (a Step) Back

20170807_004837There’s been this game running amok in the world of indie games and social media for maybe a few weeks now, something of a different string of game experience. Under clever facades and brilliant writing, the collective internet has been exposed to the next big online gaming mystery that people are itching to solve, piece together, and revel/cower in the presence of. I’m sure the title has popped up on your radar once or twice by now, but it bears discussion for many reasons. Several blogs and online articles do a great job of peeling back the layers as to why it’s been so fascinating an experience, and reviews on Steam race it Overwhelmingly Positive, always a good sign.

Indeedly so, this game rapidly breaking into the realm of infamy goes by the innocuous title of Doki Doki Literature Club. A slow-burn psychological horror that plays on a few uncomfortable meta-tropes and mechanics that, as gamers, most are at least superficially aware of, if not intimately familiar with. But before I delve too far into the subject matter I wish to discuss, I need to preface it with a few disclaimers:

  • I’m writing this with the assumption that the reader knows about the game and its major plot points
  • I’m writing this with the understanding that the material I discuss is difficult for people who are mentally debilitated might have a hard time coping with or reconciling
  • This article is much like the tag-line of the game reads: “This is not for young audiences or those who are easily disturbed

If you’re still reading this, then I’m taking it as implied consent. As mentioned, this game serves predominantly nerve and willpower testing ride. While there is a great deal of “choice of illusion”, the fact always remains that you, the player, are ultimately powerless in the face of the developments for the story. And, frankly, this might be the single greatest tool to educating people about how mental illness and, by extension, how powerless those afflicted with depression can feel.

Doki Doki Title CardThere’s this overwhelming issue with trying to sympathize with a character who has depression in video games: by the very nature of the game, the player is always saddled with options for how to approach and overcome a challenge. This also reflects in the choices a developer of the game chooses to build their options and choice-pathways for players to navigate. You can really get a sense from how the developer feels about depression and, in many cases, suicide, by how they choose to allow the player to contend with it.

In many cases, there are hopeful (bordering on idealistically optimistic) about how you can overcome depression with some pluck, determination and stalwart friends. If it sounds like I’m describing many other methods of overcoming challenges, say dragon slaying for example, that’s because the similarities are certainly there. While these aforementioned traits most assuredly help, they’re often not enough; anyone diagnosed with clinical depression (hello) can tell you that this isn’t enough.

Some developers take a slightly more bleak on the subject: depression and suicidal tendencies only end in one conclusive event; where there remains nothing left for those after the tragedy other than to simply move on. Suicide is inevitable, and everyone left behind will just have to live with that. This mentality plays out as a sort of guilt-trip for people who contemplate these thoughts: how dare you do something so selfish to people like that?! Don’t you know they care about you? Again, talk to some people who have contemplated, or even attempted, suicide and they’ll tell you about how little they care about what other people think. And if they do care, guild it the last thing that’ll help in that situation.

Rarely do we see cases where we, as the player, have to rationalize and contend with that logic: games try to put you in the shoes of the person experiencing the problem, and by that very nature, removes some of the problem with depression by giving the player choice. How do you choose to react to this? What options will you pick?

chibi_by_satchely-dbo7yijIn DDLC, we’re given something different. Enter Sayori, your spunky life-long friend who’s always been there for you, even if she’s really tardy and hungry. Of course, it’s revealed late into the first arc that Sayori has depression, and not the kind of “gee, life is kinda hard, isn’t it?” sort that we commonly throw around as slang. Rather, a crippling and self-depreciating depression that permeates every ounce of her action and behaviour.

I played through the first arc a day ago, but was already familiar with how it was supposed to end. I’d seen people try to give Sayori the affection they believed was needed to bring her back from the brink (didn’t work), I’ve seen people try their hardest to distance themselves from the issue hoping to spare themselves the pain of her death (didn’t work), and I myself tried to do what she asked of us by making good friends with another of the girls and being happy for her (didn’t work).

Ultimately, it always ends the same and robs players of the chance to do anything about it. Knowing what’s going on and having fairly extensive experience with the subject matter myself, I could read between most of her lines and deduce what was transpiring from the very beginning. As Sayori admits: the depression was always there. And for the (rapidly completed) two hours you get to know her through dialogue and gameplay, you unwittingly grow fond of the bouncy creature you call friend.

In the end, however, Sayori’s death by hanging was forever bound to happen. And, because of another clever programming trick: it doesn’t matter if you saved before to try something else, the game will not let you go back. No mulliganning here, pal! Though there are some misconceptions on this topic: it was not your actions that lead to Sayori killing herself, and neither was it her’s (or Monika’s, either).

Sayori HangingIn actuality, there is no logic to this choice. This can be a maddening fact for most people to comprehend; we like to believe humans are inherently logical creatures, and that we do things because A + B = C. Instead, in this case, it feels like every answer leads to C, regardless. When that power is ripped from the player’s hands, you suddenly start to get an surface level understanding of the powerlessness of a depressed person against their own brain.

Time and time again, Sayori is shown to be a pivotal and crucial member of the Literature Club. Her enthusiasm brings all three girls to cooperate and disarm fights, her understanding lets everyone find common ground, and it is absolutely her that brings you, player, into the realm. When she misses a meeting, you can begin to see the wheels falling off the tracks as some of that gentle compassion is lacking.

In actuality, the gentle compassion is only because of Sayori contending with her own demons and doing what little she can to bring a measure of value to herself. In her confession to you outside your house after Yuri/Natsuki leaves, she virtually shatters as she explains how worthless and terrible she is. Sayori isn’t, however, blind to the good she does: it’s more that she doesn’t care. The pain and misery far outweigh the good: as it has always been and always will be.

Never before have I seen something so poignant and accurately explained about a sensation that I myself contend with on a daily basis, but cannot seem to express in a way that others who don’t live with similar can understand.

And in that cataclysmic finale to Sayori’s existence, she finally decides to take her life into her own hands. It’s not that she chooses to kill herself, but rather she chooses to alleviate a burden from everyone’s mind. Deep within the core of who she is, she readily believes that everyone around her would benefit from her not being part of the picture.

Of course, as a player whose seen otherwise, nothing could be further from the truth. But this raises the question: what, exactly, IS truth? Truth is information that we as a large demographic agree upon and accept. To do that, we rationalize information we are given and, should it fall under particular quantifiers and qualifiers, we deem it as acceptably factual and, therefore, give meaning to truth.

Did that sound a little abstract? Because it is. Truth, by its very nature, is a construct of the mind. A mind that is mouldable and shaped by experience; experience that is controlled by what our own minds process and fathom. And if your mind is convinced that your very being is a burden upon others, and the only means you find value in yourself is in how you can make other people’s lives better…

The danger comes when that illogic becomes too logical, and the logical becomes irrelevant.

If this whole thing makes you feel a little hollow, without confidence in an arguments ability to change anything, you’re on the right track to understanding how deeply disturbing it can be for someone to live with constant knowledge that their brain is out to get them. Cause by trauma, genetics or chemical imbalance, it is a pervasive and invading aspect of life that can’t simply be willed away.

Yuri CuttingI’d like very much to explore some of the other elements that this game brings light to in regards to mental health and those who live with it, but this blog has already gotten quite long as it. I shall wrap my thoughts here for the time being, with intention of exploring other avenues of this game’s narrative mechanics in understanding mental health.

If you’re reading this and feel like you know someone out there who might be going through similar to Sayori: there are one hundred ways to help. Each person is different and each circumstance impossibly unique. As of presently: learning how to comprehend, even if only on a surface level, is a starting point.

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In my World Without Heroes

20170913_110023_HDRIn simplest terms, Shonen style anime and I do not get along; but I’ve recently made an exception in the form of Boku no Hero Academia, one hell of a good ride that plays with the tropes and ideas of contemporary superhero genres and tropes. And while I have a couple of ideas for topics that have resulted from my watching this series, today I want to discuss something that was rather integral for the first couple of episodes: the concept of what it meant to be someone’s hero.

Now, I mean this in the less than spectacular sense. Not what it means to be a hero in tights and a cape, or a super high-tech battle suit or whatever the hell is going on with He-man. Rather, what it means to be someone’s role model. The person they look up to and someone who inspires you to do your best in every capacity you push yourself towards.

Young_Izuku's_faceIn the first couple of episodes, it is made abundantly clear that young Izuku “Deku” Midoriya’s hero is All Might: the physical embodiment of all that it means to be just, courageous and all around swell. This idolization is what pushes Midoriya to work his hardest to become a superhero himself and, regardless of how daunting or impossible the odds, to try his darndest!

Now, for someone like myself, I have a hard time understanding, or rather sympathize with the character. When I was growing up, I never really had anyone I considered to be my hero, my role model. This probably strikes you as a little odd; after all, in western culture, it’s pretty normal for young boys to idolize their fathers or even their father-like figures. As the years go on, it becomes normal to find role models in celebrities, teachers or elder peers in clubs or school.

This was, obviously, not the case for myself.

Instead, I viewed it very differently from even as young an age as I can recall (and I can recall some rather vivid memories from as far back as kindergarten, perhaps even earlier). I was very steadfast in my belief that I didn’t want a role-model, or someone I looked up to. After all, to do so was to deny the unique nature of who you were, instead to just aspire to be a copy of someone else.

In essence: yes, I was a hipster long before I even had any semblance of an idea of what societal norms were.

Now, while I’m not going to pretend that my philosophies were anything remotely close to well founded, I do still adhere to a semblance of this ideology to this day. Of course, it’s not to say that I think that having a role-model inherently makes you out to be their clone in the making. On the contrary, as I grew older, I began to understand the fundamentals behind role-models in ways that encourage positive growth in a developing mind.

Going back to young Midoriya momentarily to paint a clearer picture: he used the ideologies of what All Might represented to the world on a symbolic level as a measure of what he should strive to be like in his own personal life. Even when All Might himself confessed to having lost many of those ideologies in the bustle of celebrity life, Midoriya stayed true to those initial ideas; pushing those around him to greater heights as a result. Okay, maybe not everyone, but close enough…331ff58b020f6f01ac119a0d8ea71cc2

In many regards, this is a healthy idolization. To embrace the ideas of what a person represents or teaches to improve not only ourselves, but those around us and at large. A lesson that I feel I might have missed in my developmental years that will undoubtedly stunt my character to some extent or another. Though, this might also be a blessing in and of itself, as the opposite extreme can be exceedingly dangerous as well.

And this is where I introduce you to the unintended brilliance of my earlier philosophy: not striving to be a clone of someone else. Instead of idolization, worship or obsession of a person. To erase aspects of yourself in favour of being just like this character you hold in high regard. And in some cases that I am familiar with, it can often be just that: characters. Personalities as represented in film, imagination or literature. A character as represented in our real world as well: the facade of who a person is in the presence of the public.

Mask

We all adopt a mask… though maybe not this one…

Let’s look at that in a little greater depth, shall we? Indeed, there are many people out there who don a particular persona when they are in the presence of others. It should come as no surprise that many celebrities are nothing like who they portray on the stage or before the camera; or if they are, are at least notably different than who they initially appear. But it’s not just celebrities who do this, but us as well.

When we go out into public, we all adopt some form of a personality to present to the world we meet. To the degree of this facade will depend on where we are, or our own personal limitations. Speaking from experience, I can say with confidence that who I appear to people as when I’m at conventions doing vlogging work (a great example of this is in this video) is greatly different than who I am around my closest circle of friends, which is again quite different from who I truly identify myself as in real life.

This is a part deliberate, part sub-conscious decision that people make on a large scale basis. If you really want to see a significant difference: talk to anyone working in the service industry. I would gamble not insignificant money on the fact that, with very rare exception, every one of them adopts a sort of “alternative identity” in their line of work.

Note: talk to them when they’re not at work. Obviously, they will deny it on the clock, as doing so will likely result in greater difficulty for themselves at work. Further discussion on the constraints on the individual in the face of the “professional” world is a very complicated and long topic that I shall not dive into here. Because this is a blog. Not a thesis.

Returning to the point prior: the degree of idolization and obsession that can stem from it. While I certainly lack any sort of empirical data to back this up, I have a hypothesis that the generations of my own and the one following it are most prone to having large issues with identity and sense of self. From what little observation I’ve made, these generations are the ones more prone to an unhealthy degree of idolization of particular personas, even more so in those who are socially ostracized.  I tend to see this mostly in environments where the “nerdy” tend to thrive; the more fringe members of that circle tend to not only hold particular fictitious characters in high esteem, rather they go so far as to emulate or mimic their actions and mannerisms in their entirety.

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend that this is an issue that is limited to nerd culture, rather it’s the circle I’m most exposed to and most inclined to see these trends. I am quite confident that someone who buys every poster and jersey of a particular sports figure could potentially take such a fascination too far, though I’ve personally yet to see it. Again, not for lack of there being people, so much as for my lack of exposure.

This does raise the question, however, as to what is a healthy degree of idolization? At what point does it stop being a positive influence and become a corrupting source? I can’t say for certain. I imagine there are social psychologists who have worked, or are working, on exploring this particular topic, but I’ve yet to see a study that I can accept as a good model.

In the meantime, I will leave this topic off with a couple of final thoughts on this. To what extent is having heroes and role-models beneficial? Greatly! Can the idolization be taken too far and into the realm of obsession? Absolutely! Is it good to not have role-models? Well, it’s not bad, I suppose.

And, at the end of the day: is All Might a good hero?screen-shot-2016-05-08-at-7-18-01-am

Yeah, he’s pretty okay.

Another Soul, Another Controversy

20170807_004837This brooches the subject of outdated news by all traditional schools of thought, and very nearly all current schools of thought. Indeed, one of the lessons taught to prospective students in radio broadcast: if it happened more than a day ago, it’s dead news and time to move on. Our media engines move quickly and, as a result, we consume this information much more rapidly to keep up with the ever incessant onslaught of new stories or, sometimes, just a rehashing of something we’ve heard before.

My brain simply doesn’t move that quickly, especially on more sensitive topics. I’ll very likely never be able to compete with modern news sources on my own because it takes too long for me to rationalize what I’ve heard, then turn it over in my head some two dozen times and think it through. And while I certainly consider this to be an important process for me as a method of mitigating hasty (and, need I say, almost exclusively ignorant) opinions on matters, it means that when I finally have something to say about a topic, everyone has already moved on to the next thing.

And for some conversations, this is fine. Some topics will come and go and people will either learn from it or discard the information, as is their want. For other topics, though: this can be acidic to the nature of the ongoing conversation that we, as a peoples, need to have about certain issues that plague our society or world. Some pieces of information we learn needs to be remembered, or at least discussed more deeply than our fast-moving world will allow. And I’m not the first to say this; it has been said more eloquently by better minds or more learned people.

Without beating any further around the bush, this is another discussion about the ongoing crisis that is our Mental Health Awareness in North America, or at the very least Canada. And yes, much like many people, this point was, again, reinforced by another celebrity taking their life due to unsustainable depression. But this point was not a reminder for me; I live with depression on a daily basis. As a person diagnosed with Clinical Depression, I’ve yielded to the fact that this is something that I’ll be fighting with for the rest of my life.

There are countless others who are in similar situations, and most certainly a good majority have it far worse than I ever will. And much like everyone else (to my working knowledge) who lives with depression, or knows someone very close to them who is afflicted, the ongoing fight to keep a healthy mentality is never far from our minds. But, where I do differ from some of these people is my understanding of the natures of these issues.

20170308_225340_10272_972071Not terribly long ago now, the lead singer (and some would say, the very soul of) Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, terminated his life quite prematurely. There was a massive outpouring of sympathy and sadness from the music community and fans the world over. But what surprised me was a small voice that was buried in the crowd. It was anger. Not at the late Mr. Bennington or Linkin Park; it was anger at the world around them.

“How many more people need to kill themselves before everyone really begins to care?” These were, in essence, the messages these groups were shouting. “You only care about depression and suicide when someone famous dies! Why don’t you care all the time?!”

In all honesty, this is a point very near and dear to me. Again, as said earlier: I live with depression and battle it on a daily basis. Many of angry voices that demanded this were either in similar boats themselves, or very likely people who have lost loved ones to suicide. And while, at first, I was a little put off by their sentiments, as time wore on I started thinking about it more and more. I didn’t want to be angry at the anonymous masses who would forget about mental health in a few days; I am a strong believer that anger is a poor medium to enact constructive change.

I am also, deep down inside, an angry person myself. In general, anyway: I have a bit of a temper. #gingerproblems

But I also didn’t want to be frustrated, much like these many angry voices were. After all, everyone is more than willing to show their support for mental health awareness when someone famous dies, so why can’t they care about it all the time?

There are many, many, many reasons why, as I see it. For starters, it’s entirely hard for someone who has not had experience with depression to understand the depth of detriment it does to someone’s well being. And for many who do experience depression, it is something they either are cured of, or find methods to cope with so that it does not become exceedingly prominent in their life. With this in mind, it’s very easy to understand why many people have a hard time empathizing with this issue, or even sympathizing.

As well as the other issue mentioned at the very beginning of this blog: things move fast in our world now. News and media aside; everything about our lives are quite frantic and harried when you really think about it. The concept of ‘a long time’ has changed drastically through the generations and, even now, changed exponentially within the years. No longer is ‘a long time’ generally agreed upon by months or even years; now ‘a long time’ could be a few hours to a couple of days.

And when things move this fast, especially in our connected world where the internet has allowed us to cultivate massive networks of people whose lives we closely follow: the information we receive is less news and more bombardment. And that’s not even including things that happen in our personal lives. If you really stopped and thought about it, a great deal happens to the average and not-so-average Canadian’s daily routine.

And of course, the biggest hurdle I see with everyone taking a zealous interest in conquering mental health issues is: energy. Because, for the worst case scenarios, depression isn’t something that’s really ever fixed. Unlike a cold, or a building project: there’s no real end in sight. And, as is contrary to the very progression-based mentalities that have become so centric to western societies, it’s very easy for someone living with depression to relapse due to factors outside of their control.

I can understand how it is frustrating for people who try to keep close relations to me when I suddenly go silent for months at a time because I’m locked in my own head. It takes a shocking about of energy to interact, on a consistent basis, someone who suffers from depression or similar. And energy is a very limited commodity we, as a human race, have. Energy to be spent on other pursuits: travel, work, family, friends, hobbies, interests, passive or active activities, stories, education and the list could go on for quite a long time.

And with all these things that we, as individuals, value and prioritize, I can very much understand why keeping close relations to anyone who requires a lot of time, patience and energy to interact with and care for, is a trying process. It is not for everyone, and that’s quite alright. It is stressful and draining, to say the least. I get that, I can sympathize with that.

When I see mass posting about people crying out for better mental health treatments or options when someone famous commits suicide, I don’t get upset at them. I will not deny that I would be more pleased to see them give the same attention to this issue all the time, but that is simply not reasonable nor realistic.

After all, there are many issues in our world that people champion and fight for that I, myself, have forgotten about as time wears on. As shocking as it is to hear: cancer has not greatly impacted my life as it has many others’. Cancer research and better treatments are, as a result, not something I often remember or take notice of. And that fact may shock you. After all, cancer is one of the leading killers in the western world, and is often referenced in the news or in general discussion.

It is not to say I do not care about cancer research though. To think that it is something I do not care about would be a grave misunderstanding of things. I would love, as much as the next person, to hear that there has been a cure for cancer and that no one needs to suffer that fate ever again. However, it is simply not the fight I have chosen to focus my efforts and energy into. And the same could be said for any other hundreds of issues that groups have dedicated themselves to.

I was toying around with the idea of making a small list here of other topics, but it was getting excessively long and a bit distracting: I wanted to keep researching more points to make the list even longer.

So when I see posting occasionally pop up about mental health awareness as a result of recent news, I will not become angry. I’d rather capitalize on the brief attention of these people and engage in discussion. Much like all great things, this is an ongoing effort that will take no shortage of time, understanding and compassion to conquer. And with every conversation we have on these matters, a greater understanding is achieved. And when society has a greater understanding of things, it is an inarguable victory, regardless of how small it is.

suicide prevention imageIn the meantime, I will continue to dedicate myself to this fight; so long as all the other battles are being fought by others as dedicated to theirs as I am to mine. If mental health awareness or treatment isn’t your particular battle, I will not think less of you for it. If it is not something you spend your energy upon often to learn more about, and the only time you think to involve yourself in the discussion is after tragedy, to you I promise:

I will always be willing to have a conversation with you about it.

Imperfect Recollection: the Proof

20170802_013032I’m sure you’re familiar with that age old saying: “Some things you’ll never forget”. Truly, some occurrences and instances are so fantastical, extraordinary or downright moving that an exact series of frames, or even complete video footage, very well might have been imprinted into your brain. And these memories are exceedingly personal, each one forming a small component of who you are and identify as.

This past Saturday, I experienced something that I had assumed would be just that: an event that would be so vivid in my mind I’d be able to draw upon it without much effort. I was involved in a fairly intense car collision, which (as you can see from the attached photo) did very little to improve the condition of my truck. My blog post today isn’t so much about that occurrence, rather a series of observations I have made recently about my own cognisance and memory.

As I had said, I entirely suspected that I’d remember every detail leading up to as well as the crash itself. I even remember remarking to my dad shortly afterwards that the crash was useful to me: now I could write about the force of impact, the sounds, the smells and all other sensory stimulants in much greater detail. And it is true, even now, certain events I can easily call upon.

It hadn’t even been an hour, however, and the memories were beginning to muddle in my mind. For starters, I had it in my head that the other vehicle in the crash was white. Spoiler alert: not even close. This was surprising to me at the time, as the other vehicle was just around the corner from where I sat. Then came the realization that I was misremembering what my dad had said mere seconds before the crash.

For those curious: “Fuck, this is going to hurt.”

These inconsistencies were mounting rapidly as minutes passed by, and in the days following, I can’t say for certain if I misremember particular details, or if I’ve outright fabricated them myself. A day later, an off-hand comment had revealed that the back-end of the truck had lifted off the ground upon impact. I had no memory of that at the time, but now, I can visualize the sensation of the back end lifting. Did that actually happen, and was I actually remembering it? Did my mind just fill in a blank with the information presented?

image1

Surprisingly, the only damage sustained was a somewhat nasty bruise on my nose

It’s been a long standing reality of most psychological fields that memory is less than perfect. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if Socrates himself even said “Damn, I don’t remember last night happening THAT way.” Disclaimer: I know Socrates wasn’t a psychologist, but I hope you get what I’m getting at with this analogy. This is, as far as we understand, a result of the fragmented way our brains store what we refer to as memories.

I’ll not delve much further into the specifics of how the concept we rationalize as memory is compartmentalized and stored within our brains, if for no other reason than I’m still not entirely sure I understand it myself. After all, I am not a psychologist (yet). But what I can speak of with confidence is the newfound understanding of how I can understand my own memory processes. And while it’s not indicative of how the average person (whatever those are) remembers things, it may serve as a launching point for further inquiries and discussions.

For the time being, however, I can confidently say I’ve thoroughly shaken my own appreciation for how unreliable my memory is. I used to think it was prone to deception after 24 hours, and I’ve now been served a clarification.

It’ll lie to me after fifteen minutes.

Please Unfriend Me Now!

It’s 2am in the morning Tuesday. I’ve been lying in bed for about an hour and a half just thinking. It’s usually at times like this I flip and flop over and over until I either fall asleep or out of bed (then asleep. I am not a complicated creature). But this night was a little different. There was a series of thoughts and concepts mulling around that I simply couldn’t shake.

Of course, I had to get up and figure out exactly what it was that was bothering me this time. I flipped through a couple of random Facebook pages until I came across that old, familiar meme that, while always being a little different, typically carries the same punchline: “If you disagree with me, unfriend me now.”

It was about that time all the thoughts came together and I understood what had crawled under my skin and was driving me a little batty. Between all the marvelous spreading of news, misinformation and badly cited sources, I had reached a so-called critical mass of exhaustion of that old “unfriend me now” thing.

unfriend post            While I’m certainly not going to beat the drum of “Fake News is BAD” that you can find just about anywhere, what I really need to discuss is why I find this “unfriend me now” sentiment is not only counter-intuitive, but ultimately destructive of a globalization overall.

Note to self: I need to find a nicer short-hand for the “unfriend me now” statement. I feel like its unnecessarily padding out my word count. Going forward, I shall call it the “Fred”, nicely wrapped in quotation marks. That works.

As a primer, I feel the need to convey a couple of personal beliefs I hold to make the transition from speculation to discussion a little more smooth. Primarily: I am pro-globalization and largely believe that our international societies are dependent on globalization to function at their current capacity; I do frequently use social media myself and, regrettably, it too is a source of news for me (which I am endeavoring to change, but it’ll be a slow process); and finally I am pro-discussion, even the unpleasant ones.

In fact, let’s zone in on that last point first. Discussions, debates and arguments are an important way for us to grow, not only as individuals, but as a society. And this is doubly true for the really unpleasant topics, and I’m sure you can come up with a short list in your head without too much prompting from myself. But, fact of the matter is that these unpleasant discussions are the ones we’re most likely to not have (shockingly enough).

When we don’t have these conversations, we don’t challenge our beliefs. And a belief that has not been thoroughly challenged should be re-evaluated. It harkens me back to a discussion I had with a classmate last year: the class had been discussing GMOs and the like, an inevitably the conversation turned towards how GMOs aren’t actually bad in the slightest(if you like lemons, you like GMOs. Because lemons are not naturally occurring fruit. Boom; mic drop). Invariably, I got into an argument with a classmate of mine who believed that we shouldn’t be using medicine to treat hereditary diseases.the_evil_lemon_by_i_love_transformers-d32vn17

I’ll be honest, I still don’t really understand the mindset, but I discussed it anyway. I was curious as to what were the ends that not treating these diseases was ethically acceptable to this person, and where the limits on that were. About eight minutes later, she demanded I walk away from her because she was very frustrated that I was questioning her beliefs. She never spoke to me again after that (and I’d like to think I wasn’t being obnoxious during the discussion).

I found out later from a mutual friend that no one had questioned her beliefs about that topic before, which explained why she was so sensitive to my in-depth questioning. I cannot speak for my ex-friend, but I know that I learned a little from the discussion and grew a bit.

But, where it can be difficult to just shut a person up IRL, it’s much easier over an online forum. And sometimes, that’s a good thing: if someone is spewing toxic sludge over a gaming session, hitting mute can be just the medicine the doctor ordered. However, more often than not, we use the mute button as a lazy solution to thinking critically or challenging ourselves to think differently.

I spent about an hour reading a couple of scientific pages and papers about the “Echo Chamber” phenomenon that’s been occurring on social media networks, and while that’s certainly not enough time to glean any hard facts from, there is a trend that I picked up on that is worth noting.

Most importantly, people who segregate themselves into groups based on ideologies (religious, social, illuminati) are much less likely to have varied opinions or beliefs on matters than even groups based on geographic locations. And when these segregated groups are all fed the same information (correct or otherwise), they tend to become very charged and rigid in their beliefs. This is where we hit that wonderful little psychological problem of “Confirmation Bias”, and to a smaller but no less note-worthy degree “In-group Bias”.

Paraphrased, Confirmation and In-group biases are the mental shortcuts of processing information quickly to reach conclusions based on news that already confirms our beliefs, or from sources that are more likely to share our values. In hindsight, basically exactly what the names imply. Probably could have saved ourselves some time with an external link…

Now, let’s bring this back to our friend “Fred”. When we insist that people who don’t readily share our views “Fred” us, we eliminate the chance to have a meaningful discussion about what our beliefs and values are. In small scale, this could be trivial things like why hamburgers are better as square shapes or why white sports cars don’t look as cool as red sports cars (spoiler alert: white sports cars are way better). But in larger scales, this could mean the difference in understanding foreign cultures or ideologies. These different ways of thinking could hold pieces of the answers to many of the issues and problems that plague our society on the whole.

And I know it’s exhausting and hard to have these kinds of arguments all the time. Gods don’t I know it; I have friends on my facebook account (who are also mutual friends) who frequently get into scraps with one another about their fundamental beliefs of homosexuality and gender identity. That’s a huge thing to discuss, and while there are no signs of those two agreeing any time soon, it’s vital that the conversation is at least happening.

When we stop learning from one another, we recede into our little echo chambers and allow fear and hate to colour our opinions of each other. To this day, I never cut someone out of my life because they disagree with my views and opinions (if they steal fries from my tray though, there will be blood). When I see a “Fred” post, I argue against it. Don’t close the doors to discussion. Keep them open.

We all know how stagnant the air gets in these echo chambers.