Little Antagonisms

Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash

It would have been far more impressive if these men could have prevented antagonisms from dominating their relationships with people with whom they mostly agreed. They should have focused on their work, their self-improvement. As should we.

~Aristo the Challenger, Lives of the Stoics, Holiday & Hanselman

What dominates your relationships?

It’s a weird question, I understand. In some sense, though, it’s like asking about our priorities and values. Because those are the things that guide all our interactions with other people.

As I’m reading through Lives of the Stoics, in the chapter on Aristo the Challenger, the authors point out that early on in the Stoic school of philosophy there was some sense of trying to wrestle control among peers, who saw themselves as the flag-bearers of the future.

The truth of the matter is that they had a whole lot more in common with one another than they had that differed. But the minor details seemed to drive a wedge between them. Or was it arrogance and pride? It’s really hard to tell the difference these days, isn’t it?

I (somewhat ashamedly admit) spend some time on the social app TikTok. If you are unfamiliar with it, then you obviously have had a much more productive two years during this pandemic than others. It really rose to prominence once COVID because a nation-wide problem, and people needed something to do to pass the time they were supposed to be quarantining.

What I find really interesting on the app is how certain cliques start to form, which is bound to happen given the fact that the app’s algorithm tends to show you more of what you interact with. But now we are starting to get to the stage when some of the cliques seem to be battling one another.

Perhaps it is the inevitable path that all groups of people take. In some sense, there is a wrestling for control, to be THE voice for a particular subgroup. When this happens, people forget what is held in common, and begin to focus on what is different. And, without fail, drama ensues.

I don’t keep up on it enough to know what drama is going on in the various subgroups of the app. But every once in a while, you’ll see a video alluding to it, and then everybody wants to know the “tea”, as people are calling gossip these days. I don’t know why. Probably something to do with the Kermit the Frog meme that’s out there.

(You know, the one where he is staring out the window, drinking tea. It usually says something, and then wraps up with “but that’s none of my business”. Even though they’ve clearly made it their business by bringing it up in the first place. I digress…)

And, of course, this leads me to ask: to what end? What is the purpose of infighting? What is the purpose of wrestling for control? Is it “big fish in a little pond” syndrome? Maybe. It probably doesn’t help that creators on the app can actually make a significant amount of money doing what they do. And so every interaction, every comment, leads to more views and a higher income. Drama brings in the numbers, no doubt.

But what gets lost in the process?

If we want to live a better life — and who doesn’t, really — then maybe focusing on drama isn’t the way to go. Maybe focusing on the things that drive us apart isn’t the best option.

Look, I’m not blind. I know we live in a deeply divided society. The problem is that this division has moved past simple disagreements. Perhaps you’ve seen the video of John McCain shutting down an Obama critic at one of his campaign events prior to the 2008 election. He says something along the lines of, “He’s a good man. We just have some disagreements on how some things should be done. That’s all.” Why does it feel like 2008 was a better time in our history?

Maybe we should start focusing on what we have in common, and turn our attention to our own self-improvement before we start worrying about someone else. I know there will be differences. But differences approached with respect and civility are differences that can be resolved without all the drama and without all the spilled tea.

Maybe, if we do that, we’ll find the world to be a slightly better place.

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