The Interpersonal Level of Fake News // Ronna Milo Haglili

Imagine a reality in which the social norm was such that a person who was to be asked, “What’s up?”, would provide an answer in which instead of automatically responding with, “Great,” authentic thoughts or emotions were shared. These authentic responses could be either negative or positive. Imagine this was the internalized prevalent social ritual. Imagine further, that people would listen carefully to the person’s response and made sure they understand what this person might be feeling. They would try to emotionally connect with this person in that moment, so this person would not feel alone. Or different. Or fake. Imagine also that public tearful displays would be the norm. Emotional vulnerability would not be seen as signs of weakness nor manifestations of femininity – it would be considered kind, compassionate, and humane. In schools, corporations, and social gatherings, male figures publicly crying, like we observed with Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Justin Trudeau, would be widespread. Is this the secret ingredient that would set humanity free and help reclaim its loss?

I do not mean to imply that time is an unlimited resource, or that empathy could be provided to people we interact with at all times. Nor do I mean to imply that we always have the mental resources or drives for that. A person who seeks self-exposure would typically do that only if they feel safe enough. However, I do want to shed a light on the constant gap that exist between one’s inner self and their public persona, which is the space between one’s inner stories and the stories which are eventually put in words. This space contains authenticities and vulnerabilities that are often silenced, which results in not only a communal sense of social isolation, but with a sense of self-alienation as well. Under the current social norm, people smother profound and rounded experiences, which leads to communicating only partial truths about themselves. Facebook is an utmost extreme manifestation of this social norm, and it is enacted every single day, in our most trivial conversations and communication exchanges we make with one another. It is the interpersonal level of fake news, if you will.

Intimacy could be defined as the meaningful integration of self with others (1), however in order to achieve it, an authentic inner voice must be reclaimed and surfaced. I would like to suggest employing a habit of publicly bringing voice to silenced stories, divulging emotions more candidly, and shedding a light on our vulnerabilities. In the intersection of feminism, psychology, and politics, it is Carol Gilligan’s ethics of care that I would like to invigorate; ethics by which values of caring and listening are praised and embraced and inner voices are articulated and brought to light. In her recent book “Joining the Resistance” (2), Gilligan, perhaps the most important feminist and gender studies scholar in the U.S., tries to answer the question of how have humans become so divided, and most notably, how have they become divided from substantial parts of themselves? Gilligan attributes this loss substantially to gender norms and gender binary that split human qualities into masculine and feminine even though these qualities and capacities are inherently shared by all humans. In the book’s inspiring ending, Gilligan’s optimism invites us to resist that unnecessary loss in and of humanity.

Of particular vulnerability are the voices of people who experienced trauma, either in early childhood or later in life, as they may face overwhelming difficulties to connect with others and are defied by intrinsic sense of self-alienation. It could be an adult who was maltreated as a child, or a refugee who experienced unimaginable loss and forced migration. Within a culture where authenticity, depth, and complexity are silenced, listening to their experiences is almost unbearable. People who experienced trauma do not have physical manifestations of their wounds, yet they are bound to make extreme efforts to hide their wounds from others. Their wounds are felt and experienced on each and every day of their lives, yet they have kept their trauma a secret from others. The process of telling the story of their trauma is a process of coming out of the closet - of finding out camaraderie with those who have shared similar experiences and those who can empathize and connect to them. Intimacy for them could be engulfing and excruciating but it has an empowering potential and it is the process within which healing lies.

In an era where fear and division are incited, in which increased levels of prejudice, persecution, and violence are manifested, and of unprecedented number of displaced refugees and migrants, feelings of helplessness and powerlessness arise. However, bringing about change in society and acts of resistance do not only include attending protests or communicating with policy makers. Resistance could also include the recognition of one’s own subjectivity, as well as the subjectivity of others. Additionally, it could be the collective engagement in genuine empathy, emotional intimacy, and public display of vulnerability. Even though this is frightening, I invite you to embrace Gilligan’s ethics of listening and caring: of empathy, intimacy and subjectivity. It is high time to give air time to those voices of shared humanity, who have been kept in strict silence. These voices, commonly embraced within women’s friendships, should be widespread and endorsed by all rather than overridden, depreciated, and derogated. Let’s break away from the situation known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma, at the end of which all lose. In this mind game, if being thoughtfully and collectively played right, all prisoners could be set free.

You, If No One Else
Listen, you
who transformed your anguish
into healthy awareness,
put your voice
where your memory is.
You who swallowed
the afternoon dust,
defend everything you understand
with words.
You, if no one else,
will condemn with your tongue
the erosion each disappointment brings.
You, who saw the images
of disgust growing,
will understand how time
devours the destitute;
you, who gave yourself
your own commandments,
know better than anyone
why you turned your back
on your town's toughest limits.
Don't hush,
don't throw away
the most persistent truth,
as our hard-headed brethren
sometimes do.
Remember well
what your life was like: cloudiness,
and slick mud
after a drizzle;
flimsy windows the wind
kept rattling
in winter, and that
unheated slab dwelling
where coldness crawled
up in your clothes.
Tell how you were able to come
to this point, to unbar
History's doors
to see your early years,
your people, the others.
Name the way
rebellion's calm spirit has served you,
and how you came
to unlearn the lessons
of that teacher,
your land's omnipotent defiler.

(1)  Barnett, J. (1978). On the dynamics of interpersonal isolation. Journal Of The American Academy Of Psychoanalysis, 6(1), 59-70.
(2)  Gilligan, C. (2013). Joining the resistance. John Wiley & Sons.
(3)  Tino Villanueva, "You, If No One Else" - From Chronicle of My Worst Years. Copyright © 1994 by Tino Villanueva. Source: Chronicle of My Worst Years (TriQuarterly Books, 1994).

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