The Internet's Dirty Secret: This Isn't Dialogue

I'm over six feet tall, and I want to complain about it.

I've read blogs and articles detailing the horrific difficulties associated with being racial and ethnic majorities, and minorities. I've read complaints by both genders about their particular difficulties, and claims by various age groups about why their generation has it the hardest. Stay-at-home parents blog about their difficult days, while working parents counter with the struggle of maintaining a dual life. Corporate employees condemn their jobs, self-employed businesspeople deplore their lack of stability, and the unemployed hate the difficult job market.

Many of the complaints these groups report are entirely valid, no doubt. Others are less so, I'm sure.

But I want my turn, and I plan to focus on the issue of my height. I'm going to start with how difficult it is being the butt of jokes about "the weather up there," move into the back pain caused by excessive bending, and wrap with the unique challenges of air travel. Along the way I'll touch on theatre seating, standard doorway height, and the inconsiderate installation of Japanese subway signage. When I'm done, you the reader will have a complete and total picture of my struggle.Then I can claim that we're having a dialogue.

That's what we'll be doing, right? Having a dialogue? After all, we're currently having "national dialogue" on race issues, gender issues, ethnicity and religious differences, political and sexual orientation, and just about everything else. The internet, we like to say, is enabling our conversation like never before. That's our story.

Hold that thought. Let's pay a short visit to my garage.

Imagine that I'm standing there, in front of my bicycle, which is inverted on the floor. As you enter the garage, I explain that I need to remove the front wheel to have it repaired. You notice, because you're clever and handy, that the wheel is affixed with a 9/16" hexagonal nut. The obvious tool to remove this wheel would be a 9/16" wrench. Closed end or open end would work. Even an adjustable wrench would suffice. In a pinch, you could probably do the job with the right pair of pliers. (You are, after all, clever and handy.)

The problem is, I'm holding a hammer. A good sized, curved claw, industrial weight hammer. With a rubber grip. It's a really nice hammer. I'm trying to use it to remove the wheel, alternately banging on the nut and grabbing at it with the claw. It's not working, and as I grow more frustrated, I'm hammering and clawing harder and harder. If at first I wasn't making any progress, now I'm doing damage. The more I hammer, the more I damage the nut, and the further I get from my goal.

"Ack," you exclaim in frustration. "Get a different tool. And even if you don't have any other tools, for the love of all that is mechanical, STOP HAMMERING." As it turns out, you're clever, handy, and articulate.

Unfortunately, I'm too busy extolling the virtues of my new hammer as I'm hammering to hear you.

Now hold that thought, and let's get back to my height. I'd like to join the national dialogue, but I happen to know the dirty secret.

If you're in the habit of paying attention both to people who agree with you and people who disagree with you, you almost certainly know it too. You've noticed that we're getting more polarized, not less polarized. The screaming from both sides -- both sides of the political aisle, and both sides of any particular issue you care to select -- has gotten louder, and the collective fingers have grown more firmly implanted in the collective ears.

If you're in the habit of only paying attention to people who agree with you, and dismissing out of hand anyone who doesn't, you probably know it anyway. You've noticed that, as you've gotten older, the people who disagree with you have gotten dumber. Whether it's one president or another, one religious group or another, or one anything or another, you've realized as you've aged that people who don't understand what you understand are pretty badly misinformed. You can tell how dumb THEY are by how dumb WE say they are. Man, are they getting dumb.

Really, we all know the dirty secret, whether or not we want to admit it: We're not having a national dialogue. We're having a series of national monologues. Everyone is complaining, and nobody is listening. And it's not working. We're not getting much of anywhere on many real, serious issues. Worse yet, those same life-threatening, liberty-threatening, humanity-threatening issues are getting watered down by the petty and ridiculous yammering of guys like me complaining about their height.

Social media, blogs, comments, and shares as they exist today are our hammer. The dialogue we need is our hexagonal bolt. We can't do what works until we stop doing what doesn't work.

How can I stop hammering? What can I do, if I really want to engage in a dialogue about the difficulties of being tall, other than complain about it and post supportive comments to others who do?

I might, instead, think in terms of the particular advantages and disadvantages of being tall, and try to catalog both. I might, instead, listen carefully to someone else explaining the pros and cons of not being tall, and then add to that conversation with some pros and cons of my own. I might, instead, pose well-formed questions designed to generate solutions, such as asking whether it would be possible to design airline cabins to accommodate taller individuals more comfortably. I might, instead, avoid tossing around incendiary and useless questions that only cause more fake dialogue, such as asking why it's so difficult for a tall person to find a comfortable seat on a plane. I might, instead, have conversations in the real world rather than on the internet.

Whatever I do, I had better start to pay attention to what's important to those around me, and start to focus my own energy on helping to solve the biggest problems we face as a society, rather than on getting my own problem on the radar.

Otherwise, I'll just be one more voice in the yammering sea, complaining to no one (and occasionally bumping my head).

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