In late 2019 BC (Before COVID), my wife and I were vacationing in Mexico. Our hotel in Playa del Carmen was just a couple of blocks away from what we’d read was a “tourist trap.” It was known as the “Quinta Avenida,” which translates to: Fifth Avenue. The tree-lined and bustling street stretches for more than two miles and includes gift shops, restaurants, bars and a variety of entertainment choices.
Needless to say, the vendors there want your business. And they’ll do just about anything to get it. So the challenge was to sort through the shouts, educate ourselves on the options and in the end, hopefully, make wise choices with our wallets.
Early on, we learned that making a connection was the goal of the shrewd salespeople. The good ones could spot a sucker a mile away. The conversation often went something like this:
“Hey, Minnesota! You like Vikings? We got it here! Don’t you remember? I’m your bartender from Panama Jack’s. Since we’re already friends I give you 50 percent off!”
On Day One, Laurie and I were naive and vulnerable. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn that Teddy Bridgewater T-shirt. But how did they already know where we were staying?
By Day Two, we’d figured out they were also spotting our hotel wristbands. Sure there were numerous hotels in the area, but each with their own specific color and insignia. The ones they told us to keep on all week. The ones that got us into the pool, spa and exercise room at palatial Panama Jack’s.
Come Day Three, I’d ditched the Viking garb, donned a Cancun cap and was attempting to keep my hands in my pockets. Trouble is, those wristbands also brought us various perks and were essential for access to several good restaurants nearby. Nonetheless, the pestering was becoming perturbing.
Nowadays, we’re not staying in any hotels. Still trying to make wise choices but with a more limited budget during the pandemic.
The Coyne Casa back in Apple Valley, Minn., is relatively safe and comfortable, but admittedly has fewer amenities. Nobody’s bringing us clean sheets every day. Our afternoons at the pool are limited to Wednesdays and that 59-inch Blue Molded Backyard special went for $14.99 at Walmart but barely seats a growing grandchild. And instead of mowing down Mojitos, I’m blitzing through blades of grass with my Toro Self-Starter.
There is one similarity, though.
Now stuck at home searching social media for answers to today’s divided America, there is no end to the vendors seeking our business. Like on Quinta Avenida, they are shouting at us from the left and right. The headlines, pictures and videos are designed to grab our attention, similar to the colorful ads and street smells luring us in Playa del Carmen. Just be careful what you buy … a lot of it is junk and there’s dishonesty everywhere.
Venturing out on Facebook freeway, the competition for your vote is growing fierce.
- Is that 17-year old roaming the streets of Kenosha with an AR-15, a vigilante killer looking for trouble? Or a proud American protecting our streets and acting in self-defense?
- Are masks an infringement on our civil rights? Or a necessary protection against a virus that’s already claimed over 180,000 American lives?
- Do the Democrats represent a much-needed change from the divisiveness of Trump? Or are they spewing socialist reforms that are both unrealistic and dangerous to our future?
- Will the Republicans bring our economy back and return law and order to our streets? Or have they stood by far too often while their president has lied repeatedly and mismanaged the country for his personal gain?
On and on it goes. On Twitter Terrace, those trying to convince us that protesters are simply out of control trouble-makers are eager to post photos of looting, fires and mayhem. Scroll down a bit and it’s easy to find another shot related to the same event, but this time displaying peaceful marchers being bullied or sprayed with mace by figures of authority. Sometimes the pictures they choose are actually from different events. Or photoshopped to enhance one persuasion. Or old and purposely misleading.
Just the other day, I noted the picture of a beefy, smiling farmer in bib overalls. The caption read: “Have You Ever Noticed. The Police Leave You Alone If You Aren’t Doing Anything Illegal.” Shortly thereafter, I’d scrolled to a video that’s recently gone viral showing a black man holding his hands up in compliance, only to be subsequently booted in the back by an onrushing police officer. Conflicting perspectives, for sure. But also dangerous generalizations that deserve greater context.
Portrayals of public figures also vary widely. First Lady Melania Trump had supporters in awe of her grace and beauty, while detractors described one of her outfits as “Nazi-inspired” and her smile “staged and superficial.”
There’s little doubt that we have never felt more divided, as a presidential election looms just two months away. The left doesn’t trust the right. The right doesn’t trust the left. The conspiracy theorists often don’t trust anybody. And those in the middle are afraid to show their “wristbands” for fear of losing friends in the process.
Some seek solace by staying off these sites altogether. Watch old movies. Catch cooking shows. Or head to Instagram Island to love baby photos or pictures of pets.
But admit it. Do that for very long and you’re haunted by the reminders from those internet vendors on “both” sides, who offer messages like: “Silence is compliance.” Or “Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it.” We all know how little respect is paid to the ostrich.
Regardless of where you stand, this gridlock is getting us nowhere. A good friend recently jumped into one of these typically combative threads with this great nugget of wisdom:
“I have yet to see anyone on FB change their opinion due to the fact that someone of an opposing view convinced them with respectful discourse.”
While I’d like to believe that’s not always the case, I worry he might be right.
Chances are, you won’t enjoy diving into a hornet’s nest of antagonists. They will not only disagree with you. They’ll often feel fortified to post inflammatory articles or opinions, sometimes unsubstantiated or even untrue, buoyed by their bevy of supporters who always seem to show up to defend them. Even when you feel you’ve made a salient point with strong evidence, the insults may fly.
Conversely, it may feel temporarily satisfying when your strong stand on a social issue is greeted with endless “Likes” “Cares” or “Loves.” That is, until you happen to notice there’s another large group of folks posting opposing views guaranteed to make you angry again. “How could they possibly feel that way?” you muse.
Maybe “unfriending” someone or canceling your account makes you feel better. For a while. But wearing earplugs or staying on the sideline never solved anything. And we need dialogue and discussion now more than ever.
So instead, I propose this checklist worth trying, as we all seek answers, or at least compromise, to our growing division:
1. Ask yourself, is it even possible for you to see the other side of an issue?
2. Might your perspective be clouded by your bias?
3. Might you feel differently if you stood in others’ shoes?
4. Do you value the truth or simply affirmation of your perspective?
5. Are you willing to seek reliable sources to resolve disagreements, even if those sources might contradict your views?
6. Are you able to listen, or read, before commenting?
Our crazy world of ever-increasing technology demands answers yesterday. Yet one visit to the internet and you’ll quickly notice how easy it is for seemingly black-and-white issues to be clouded, misconstrued and/or manipulated by those with an agenda.
Ultimately, we’ll never all agree. That’s OK. But we need to find leaders, not followers. Listeners, not shouters. Accuracy, not propaganda.
It was then that it dawned on me. Each day on Quinta Avenida had gotten increasingly better. What began with mistrust, skepticism and fear came as a result of websites we’d read even before flying south. Upon arrival, we began to see the reality: mostly poor, hard-working people putting in long hours to make a few bucks. There were hustlers and con artists, of course. But as we slowly began to educate ourselves and listen to locals eager to please, we grew to appreciate Quinta Avenida for its culture, generosity and incredible authentic Mexican fare.
In fact, our final night in Playa would prove most memorable, but with an interesting twist.
Laurie and I would end up breaking one of our unwritten vacation rules: Never go to the same restaurant twice when there are so many untried options.
It seems we’d been blown away by the staff at “Bella” the night before. Relying on recommendations at Panama Jack’s and that trusty brown wristband, we got a special table, amazing service and a bonding with the waiter, chef and maitre d’. Not to mention, the bolognese, champagne and limoncello were fabulous.
Who would have guessed we’d dine twice at an Italian cafe in Mexico? Or that the same brown wristband I’d been concealing on Quinta Avenida would be our ticket to bolognese at Bella? Turns out we just needed to do a little homework and trust the advice of one of those hawkers on the street.
So maybe there’s hope for life on social media, too. For the left, the right and the middle.
You might be surprised when you’re no longer afraid to show your hand for the things that matter to you. Get involved in November and vote your conscience. Soak up all you can and decide accordingly.
For me, my wristband begins with this list of values:
- Trust, not Fear.
- Inclusion, not Isolation.
- Empathy, not Selfishness.
- Truth, not Fiction.
- Respect, not Insults.
- Education, not Ignorance.
There is too much at stake to be an ostrich. Or a guy in a purple shirt, but with his hand in his pocket