Is there any room for dialogue in our cultural landscape?
Some cultural values from our current landscape can hinder our capacity for dialogue and relationship building: efficiency, success, perfection, certainty. These values create the propensity for competition, for “cancel culture” and for seeing the world as a threat, while also contributing to a surge in loneliness. Adding to that loneliness is our exposure to floods of information, which reduces our ability to focus, take in and absorb what’s right in front of us, or what’s happening right inside of us. Understanding our current conditions and how they affect my foundational core, my spiritual condition and my worldview are critical to me in determining what helps or hinders my capacity to build healthy relationships of dialogue toward unity. This is a starting point for reflective discussions.

1. In our political and cultural climate, fear is intensifying
Fueled by the media, we are constantly bombarded with news coverage of mass shootings, natural disasters, inflation, continuous war and other sensationalized tragedies—all constantly stretched out across news media cycles for as long as possible—that contribute to a climate and politics of fear. As a result, it’s not surprising that many might see so much of the world, including their neighbor, as a threat. This leads to distrust in institutions and among people, while also creating the conditions for a more desensitized society, when we really need more capacity for empathy and connection with each other.
2. Communication technology is distracting
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, Snapchat and other social platforms, and the internet in general, have contributed to a culture of convenience, efficiency and “saving time,” to obtain information when in reality, we actually lose and waste more time with all the distraction that the inundation of information creates. This may lead to “general mental health symptoms, suicidal ideation, loneliness and isolation, social anxiety, depression, and decreased empathy. In addition, especially for younger generations, screen culture inhibits our natural ability and confidence to connect meaningfully and authentically with others, and in general presents obstacles to dialogue.

3. Forms of identity are expanding
Culture and identity go hand in hand: culture informs identities, and how we live out our identities shapes culture. The postmodern cultural outlook has expanded the many ways individuals and groups connect to identity. This creates a new challenge, especially for those coming from a generation of simpler times and terms. Some of the more challenging areas of identity that society has struggled to accept include gender and race/ ethnicity, as evidenced by the rise in hate crimes, overt aggression, micro aggressions, general discrimination and social exclusion. And while we might not understand or agree with these various forms of identity, to recognize, acknowledge and accept how someone self-identifies is a critical starting point for dialogue.

What has been the impact on us individually and as a society?
• The speed and pace of life makes all relationships difficult and hard to prioritize.
• Difficulty in drawing boundaries, making decisions—e.g., FOMO (fear of missing out)—leads to burnout.
• Breakdown in critical thinking leads to a binary mindset: true/false, right/ wrong, black/white.
• Blockages to self-awareness mean we can’t connect with self, and instead can lead to external sources for validation or belonging which can result in echo chambers.
• We end up with our “curated self” or our “identity” on the internet.
• We look on without engaging.

We, as humans, still inherently desire to be in relationship, in community, to make sense of the senseless and find meaning in the suffering we are living individually and collectively.
In our current social media and technology-driven age, there’s a palpable tension between wanting to know our neighbors on the one hand and, on the other, not having enough time, or having a limited emotional capacity, or wanting to be “right,” or avoiding pain, shame and embarrassment.
That tension makes it challenging to establish healthy communication practices and patterns that are the conditions for effective, authentic dialogue.

A sociological and cultural overview as a starting point for reflective discussions
By Sasha Ongtengco – Living City

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