Gaps of Understanding

I’ve been up since 3:15am due to a headache. During this time I’ve been thinking about gaps in understanding. I was made aware of this issue many years ago when I read the book “From Beirut to Jerusalem” by Thomas P. Friedman, which discussed how the problems in the Middle East will never be solved because the two sides are speaking different languages—and this is the metaphorical language of understanding, not actual languages. Two recent situations have gotten me thinking about this: the Koran burning kerfluffle and the LJ/FB kerfluffle.

Let’s look at the Koran burning issue first. As Americans, while we might see the Koran burning as a stupid thing to do, we also can’t stop it. It is a protected expression of speech, and it is our way and understanding that sometimes we must have speech we don’t like. That’s why the ACLU defended the rights of the Nazis to march to march in Skokie many years ago. But to those in the Middle East, especially those never raised with freedom of speech, this is a completely foreign concept. First, the Koran is viewed as the literal word of God, and burning it is an insult. Governments there can restrict incendiary speech, so our freedom gets viewed as tacit approval of the insult. Two different ways of viewing the same issue that creates violent conflict.

Turning to the LJ/FB issue. The issue here is that there are distinct communities on LJ, and they do not understand each other well. There’s one community that uses LJ as a journaling platform, just as they might use WordPress or another blog. Some posts they want to restrict to a local community or friends, but there isn’t a problem if it gets out. They connect their real life and LJ life; they have no problem with people on Facebook reading their LJ and knowing who they are. In fact, they might want to encourage it to get more readers from family and friends. There is another community that wants to keep the two lives separate. Their LJ is under a pseudonym, and they do extensive measures to hide their LJ’s existance from the real world, for whatever personal reason. I could attempt to characterize these as fandom or fiction writers, but I fear that would be too simplistic, as there are likely a myriad of reasons why some want that separation. I do know that some are concerned with the distinctions in the differing terms of service, and the concern that creative materials posted on one venue might end up being owned by someone other than the original author. The key point, however, is that these two communities don’t understand each other (and even more particularly, I don’t think LJ understands the concerns of all the different communities). It is this lack of understanding that leads to lot of the conflict, as each community expects the other communities to intuitively see things the same way that they do.

How do we bridge these understanding gaps? Is it even possible? That I can’t answer. All I can do, as an individual, is attempt to listen better and hear what the other side is saying.