We are inundated on a daily basis with messages of who we should be, how we should look, and what brings success. It seems like chasing after the kind of life that is glamorized by our society today ultimately leaves us isolated, empty, and hungry for something more – something real.
Social media, targeted advertising, news pundits, and politicians all work to divide individuals into likeminded groups that feel, think, believe, and behave similarly in order to consolidate power and increase profits.
Social media has directly led to the polarization that we see today. It works by ascertaining and reinforcing already held views, then further isolating groups through targeted messaging to appeal to those views – and the platforms turn a profit.
For example, Amazon tracks literally every single thing you do in order to build a profile on your habits and manipulate your thinking into purchasing items you never even thought you needed.
Most of our news outlets, at one time or another, have admitted in court that they should not be held responsible for presenting information in a factual manner. In fact, one of the more popular political commentators in the news media today recently won a court case by claiming that no intelligent person would believe that what he says is the truth.
Our political system itself is designed to elect the person who is best at dividing the population and consolidating the most radical groups. As an example, Lee Atwater was an incredibly influential political consultant and presidential advisor in the 1980s and 90s who admitted his campaign strategy was to intentionally lie in order to appeal to voters in order to gain support. He said that if he could get enough people to repeat a lie, then he could convince voters to elect his candidates. Atwater called this mindset of getting people to believe a lie: “Perception is Reality.”
So, how do we know who to trust? How do we break out of this cycle of a false reality that has been built so that we may seek what is true and fulfilling? What is real?
Paul – one of the writers of the New Testament – wrote about this problem in a letter to the church in Rome:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NRSV)
Practically, I believe there are three steps to making the move away from this deceptive pattern of manipulation and into a better future for ourselves, our communities, and our society at large.
- Reflect: Take time to sit in silence in order to understand what has been driving us. Is it what we see presented in front of us on our phone, television, or computer by those who stand to benefit from us financially (or from our vote), or are we turning our heads to see the people around us so that we can respond? If we are to discern our motives, it will require a deep introspection and truthfully admitting to ourselves what we value, what we believe, and why we believe it. Confess those areas to God or a trusted person who can help to hold you accountable when you uncover wrong or misplaced motives.
- Seek: Ask God for guidance. Step out of the normal friend groups who all think, look, talk, and act like you. Be open to opposing opinions and beliefs. We must assess what is true by being willing to engage with those who think differently than we do. We should be willing to challenge our own thinking, our views, our beliefs, and societal norms in light of God’s will.
- Respond: This is the step we especially do not like to take. After we take the time to reflect and seek out God’s will, we must make a change. In Romans, Paul describes this step as breaking out of the pattern of the world. It is a realignment of our actions with the two things required by God: love God and love people.
It is through this process – reflecting on our lives, seeking God’s will, then responding to God’s will – that we can break out of the manipulative and divisive patterns that are used to control our thoughts, opinions, and actions. Rather than seeking after what the world offers, we can find true fulfillment in living our lives in service to God and to those around us.
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