Divided we fall

Listen to an English robot-man read this blog post.
Listen to an American robot-woman read this blog post.

I’ve recently been talking a lot with a good friend of mine about differences of opinion and how people react when they find out you think something different to them. We were talking politics (I vote one way, he votes the other) but what I’m about to say is something I see in the tech community too. People have these crazy-strong opinions about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and when people disagree there’s often little attempt to see things from the other person’s point of view.

I’ve spoken to people who are totally intolerant of friendships like this. I used to be like that myself. I really struggled when people I know voted for something I didn’t believe in. To my shame, I actually remember saying something like “Anyone who votes for X must be stupid, misled or an arsehole.” I’ve had people mock me for building websites in WordPress because “It’s not a real CMS!” But these are such poor perspectives to have.

Thinking this way is totally unhealthy. It starts by causing friction and over time leads to great division. Division between friends, between families, between communities and between countries. And for what? So you can gain a sense of grim satisfaction that you’re ‘in the right’? Well-fucking-done mate. You’re ‘right’ and they’re ‘wrong’ and everybody’s miserable and the world is literally on fire.

Anyway, back to my friend: We were pondering why people couldn’t have discussions about these differences of opinion without it descending into name calling and vitriol. The conclusion we came to was a general lack of empathy made worse by the dehumanising effect that social media has on human connection. It’s easy to sling mud at someone from behind your keyboard in your high tower. Far less so in real life. But the filter bubbles and echo chambers that we live in online often extend to the real world too. The algorithms curate our feeds and, liking the way it feels, we replicate this process in the real world. Someone says something you don’t like on Twitter: Block them. A friend says something you don’t agree with in real life: Maybe you forget to invite them to your next get together.

Ask people why they believe what they do. Not to change their minds but simply to understand them better. Because listening to somebody and making them feel understood is one of the greatest gifts you can give. You can’t force people to listen to you so don’t even try. But you can choose to listen, really listen, to the people around you.

As I was thinking about all this an article by Mark Manson landed in my inbox. It’s about unconditional relationships and this passage really spoke to me:

Unconditional relationships are relationships where both people respect and support each other without any expectation of something in return. To put it another way, each person in the relationship is primarily valued for the relationship itself — the mutual empathy and support — not for their job, status, appearance, success, or anything else.

Unconditional relationships are the only real relationships. They cannot be shaken by the ups and downs of life. They are not altered by superficial benefits and failures. If you and I have an unconditional friendship, it doesn’t matter if I lose my job and move to another country, or you get a sex change and start playing the banjo; you and I will continue to respect and support each other. The relationship is not subjected to the coolness economy where I drop you the second you start hurting my chances to impress others. And I definitely don’t get butthurt if you choose to do something with your life that I wouldn’t choose.


I want more unconditional relationships in my life. I want only unconditional relationships in my life! I’m not saying this is going to be easy and I know that I’ve messed up in this area many times in the past. To anyone I’ve failed to listen to because of their opinions on some subject, I’m truly sorry. I’m going to try harder from now on.