“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” – Victor Hugo

One of my favorite things to do on a weekend morning was to get a good cup of coffee and curl up with a stack of magazines and newspapers. Looking through the images and articles, I would find inspiration and ideas. I never knew what I would discover. As I spotted a beautiful picture, quote, or something for my “to-do” list, I would rip out the page and make a collection. There was always a surprise on the next page, and the diversity of thoughts enriched my mind. Critical essays, poetry, recipes, home decor, fashion, illuminating reviews, articles to read later…I would pile them up for my creative compost. Ideas are powerful, and so are the sources from which we gather them.

With the onset of so many online applications, printed media is not as necessary as before, and I miss that experience of opening to a new world. Many of the publications I read have stopped printing, some get discontinued mid-subscription, and most are entirely digital. Digital is more “eco-friendly,” so many opt for online subscriptions or applications like Pinterest for ideas. We read the news online without seeing the whole page. There are limitless options for searching, but the one entering the keywords shapes what turns up. What appears may not be as diverse because the algorithms try to anticipate what we might want. So if we search for a topic, we are suddenly flooded with similar articles that follow those same lines. If you don’t think to look for something else, you won’t even know what you miss. 

It is excellent when looking for design or cooking options, but I find it troublesome when considering world affairs and politics. If I want to get a different perspective, I have to expand my search and be aware of sources. Often the ones that pop up affirm my current mindset or stoke indignation on a controversial topic. Worse yet, there may be misinformation posing as “official news” because it is so much easier to disseminate information online without having to endure the cost of true research, printing and distribution. Anyone can create a story, and the news cycles are rapid.

Again, while this is amazing for creative pursuits, there are dangers when it comes to who we are and what we believe based on what we perceive as “news” and “truth.” We are continuously tracked and monitored by digital platforms and social media for our behavioral trends. Teams of online engineers use our emotions and what we like to affect how the world appears before us. It is the way they work to make money and develop the programs. The tools that started as a way for consumers to find what we wanted are now used to help data find us.

In the Civil Graces Project, I talk about situational awareness and our ability to be conscious of what is going on around us. Understanding this issue includes being aware of how our civilization is programmed through information. We need to have critical dialogues as the public square shifts to a digital space connected worldwide. Who is controlling the means of information? Who is watching what we love, and what are they doing with that information? Unlike when I could sit in my home and have relative privacy about what I love and what inspires me, now if I am online, all that is tracked and used to sell me items and ideologies. Some say this is the cause of the growing unrest in our county. The manipulation of data can create polarity among people, and as a culture, research shows it leads to more depression and anxiety.

We have an opportunity in this time to reshape the narrative. We could choose to expand our search and find ways to reach common ground with one another. It means doing introspection, having a willingness to learn, and listening for what is trying to emerge. Powerful things are happening right now. We vote with every click we make. The intensity of the pandemic, the election, and the environment…all this is creating a stage for change. This information can cause fear, or it can be a time for transformation on many levels. World leaders know this, which I believe is why the rhetoric is getting louder and rumors more obnoxious. Confusion and division are tools to keep us from engaging even when important matters are at stake.

And yet, we are invited to create new paradigms with new ideas that help us use the information available to build upon diversity, inclusion, and awareness of the possibilities we have to make a new world together. The global network can inspire, engage, and uplift. It is up to us to make that happen and demand those changes in the social media systems. When we become responsible for the information we consume and put out into the world, we can shift our use of data and ideas to create harmony between people rather than discord. We stand in our authority to enter the civil discourse and realize that another perspective is just that, another point of view in a world full of options. We can turn the page and be open to wonder of what we will discover.

I grow frustrated whenever I hear leaders talk of limiting freedoms by curtailing people’s voices, choices, and votes. Domination and control haven’t worked in the past, and they won’t work in the future. To make sure we are doing our part to challenge the use of information, we have to be aware of what we put into the world and how we interact with data. What kind of change are we inspiring? Are we speaking of ideas in a way to condemn or enlighten? Both carry incredibly different energy. One closes a conversation, and the other opens the door to more dialogue.  

We have work to do to heal this nation. We each are an integral part of what is happening in the world. While it is often challenging, we have to search for common ground continually, and if you keep looking, you will find it.  Online platforms have the potential to break us apart if we rely only on our thoughts and ideas. We get to choose if our circles grow smaller or to choose the path of the heart which extends that circle.

The world is continuously stretching, and the potential to define it has never been more significant. Look around, seek out new sources of information, and listen. We are all here for a reason but not to shrink the world to fit into our minds. The Civil Graces are keys to unlock our minds and hearts to remain open to possibilities and each other to create a luminous and more just world.

I love this image taken at night at Chadds Peak Farm by Edwin Williams Photography LLC– all we need is just a little opening to find the light.

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