Breaking out of the silo

Breaking out of the silo January 27, 2015

[Fourth in a series on communication. Start at the top.]

silobridge
(Shutterstock)

Two of the corners of my life in which I am the least siloed — in which perspectives and opinions bump against each other most — are family and Facebook.

In most other ways, my family and Facebook are profoundly different. My extended family’s mix of perspectives is a received fact, and one for which I’m grateful, especially as a parent. By contrast, the diversity of my Facebook friends results from my own choices.

Another difference: Families don’t often talk openly about beliefs and opinions. As Stephen Prothero put it, they do religion like mad but rarely talk about religion. Facebook, on the other hand, is all about sharing opinions.

I’ll get to family later in the series. First Facebook.

For better and worse, I climb into Facebook friendhood with almost anyone who asks. My friends fall mostly into five groups: Family, K-12 friends, College friends, Post-college friends, and Readers of my books.

It’s interesting that those five groups are roughly arranged in both the order I entered them in life and increasing order of self-siloing. The older I get, the more they’ve reflected my own choices. My extended family is mostly different from me in religion and politics, though they vary in intensity. Most of my K-12 friends differ from me in religion and politics, though not as much as family. Friends met at Berkeley are about half secular and half religious, though almost all politically progressive, as are post-college friends. And readers of my books are naturally pretty secular and (as far as I can tell) mostly progressive politically.

See how the silo narrows as I go?

It’d be easy to cull this list down to a comfortable silo of 800 who would tend to nod at my every Facebook status and post and link. But I’ve been in enough of those situations to know it’s not good for me. It makes me lazy, gives me the queasy feeling I used to get as I stood in chuckling clutches at this or that atheist meeting, basking in the glow (at last, at last!) of people who saw the world as I did.

It’s helpful at first. Then it gets really old.

About seven years ago, my writing and my speeches to like-minded groups began centering on the need to spend a bit of our seemingly boundless other-critical energy on a peek in the mirror. An example was a post titled “Six things the religious (generally) do (much) better than secularists.” Some loved it — others were pissed. I considered that a good sign.

I continued in my talks to humanist groups around the country, noting that churches ironically do humanistic community better than we do, and that we can and should fix that. Then in my first announcement about Foundation Beyond Belief, I pointed to the fact that the average churchgoer gives away 2-3 times as much discretionary income as the average non-churchgoer — and was met again with both support and outrage. Never mind that I was making the larger point that it’s pretty clearly a structural problem, not a moral one — that churches have created a “culture of giving” by providing regular and easy opportunities to give. Still a bitter pill for some. And again, I thought that a fine thing.

So I guess I’m involved in a two-part communications project here. I want to hear and be heard more effectively outside of my silos, but I also want to stir up the complacency within my silos. And because of my promiscuous friending, Facebook is one of my main opportunities for adventures in silo resistance.

I’m not talking about deconverting anyone. I haven’t spent a bit of intentional energy on that in at least ten years. I saw that most people will think about worldview questions on their own schedule and under their own control or not at all, and that active attempts to force the issue usually drive them the other way. No need to “give” anyone reasons to believe or not believe. The reasons are scattered in plain sight all around our feet, just a thought away. At best, we can spur each other’s curiosity – How interesting, an ethical atheist. How fascinating, an intellectual evangelical – by dismantling preconceptions. And the best way to do that is by being out and normal.

(Funny thing — since I stopped trying to change people’s minds, I’ve received ten times as many emails from people whose minds I’ve changed.)

Facebook is one of the places I can be out and normal. It’s also possible to use Facebook to create a silo, of course, and many people do just that, consciously or not. Befriend a like mind here, defriend an unlike one there, and pretty soon we’ve built another echo chamber.

Unlike my more siloed corners, I know when I post something on Facebook that it will be seen by several of the most prominent atheists in the world AND my wife’s extended Baptist family, by Republican neighbors AND Democratic friends — by hundreds of people I love and respect, including many who see the world in a profoundly different way from me. Knowing that pushes me to take a little extra care to be accurate, to be fair, but also honest — to be myself, but also to improve myself. I’m not interested in pandering — instead, I try to say things of substance in such a way that I can be heard by multiple human audiences at once. (Which was good practice for writing this book.)

Next time I’ll describe a Facebook exchange that illustrates what I think I’ve learned about hearing and being heard.

[This series first appeared at The Meming of Life. Start at the beginning.]


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  • $18189851

    Thank you, Dale.
    I’m glad I read this. I just crashed and burned in front of 400 strangers around the world on FB and feel like shit. If I were in to conspiracies, I’d swear Zuckerburg and his nerd buds are playing some fucked up sick joke and my page is up on a screen with 50 other whackos on FB watch and they’re making bets how soon I’ll start screaming and unfriending people, or posting Atheist shit to stuff in arrogant Christians faces after they posted shit saying I’m going to hell on a Dixie cup.
    It all started 2 weeks ago. My page was called Reed’s Woodworking but it was a personal page. My rule was no religion no politics and no negativity. Woodworking, dogs, antique tools and woodworking projects, interesting doors and old barns, Smokie mountain photos and links to Lumberjocks,com / reedwood to show off my woodworking and blogs.
    It was my way of dealing with my horrid JW past, by not looking at it anymore, don’t talk about it, stuff in the closet and nail it shut. it was working fine. I don’t even have any close friends. But these people liked me for my talent as a woodworker and hopefully for my stories. It was a safe place for me, full of artists that never judged me because of my lack of faith in the unproven.
    Then they shut it down and made me change the name to my own – Mark A, Reed. Ok, now I either had to start over and lose my previous posts or just leave it as is.
    Next thing I know, this guy who supposedly was my best friend when I was 16 – I can’t even picture him, I’ve blocked out so much of my past – calls me out of the blue, after 30 years and tells me all the latest gossip about my JW disaster of a family, any JWs I knew who are now disfellowshipped, in jail, dead or still shunning anything not JW. it was so pathetic….. made me sick.
    Then …. he tells me he’s been watching my page, and 2 years ago, he went to my pedophile, fist beating JW pop and tried to get him to talk to me again, saying I’m a good father, upstanding citizen in the community and successful business man.
    My dad said, no. He’s 86 years old and dying. They just sold our family home and moved him to assisted living and I doubt I will ever see him or go to his funeral. Nothing I didn’t expect really, from a JW, but to have the door ripped open and everything comes flying out at once… I lost it.
    I erased the last three months posts, shut down my privacy settings, unfriended 50 people I didn’t even know and my besty girl friend of 30 years, the one that told me I’m going to hell, after she thanked her god for me, an Atheist who just gave her rent money with no strings.
    .. should a let it go, but it’s been non stop with the god bother posts and I finally replied. so much for that friend. Another one bites the dust.
    But, If FB would’ve let me change my page to a business page, none of this would’ve happened. Now, I have two pages – like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
    The doc. is in, he’s pissed and in control, ranting, sharing Atheist posts, joining Atheist and ex JW groups, making spiteful comments, and finding myself surrounded by a whole new group of whackos with ugly clueless agendas, willing to attack and spew vitriol speech, just as much as me…. all so ugly. What have I become? I’m so miserable.
    Maybe I’m not cut out for activism online… it’s too personal to me and I’m all alone. How many sexually abused, beaten, shunned ex Jw, conservative, pro life, pro family Atheist, excommunicated – with a fucking cleft lip – thanks to my smoking parents (pre JW), do you know of?
    I’m a mess but I’m still standing … I have no direction or purpose right now.
    that’s what I get for living a cyber life, and believing it’s real.
    thanks again,
    mark