I can seize upon the flawed analogy to mock the entire argument, but what is that getting me, really? What does it do for my learning, for my influence and impact, for my growth as a person and as a leader, to stand in a dismissive posture over another’s earnest argument?
Being right is less important than being constructive.
The story about the fancy sandwich shop does not carry the weight that David Brooks wants it to, a fact the internet seized upon with vigor. I’m no Brooks booster; I read his column only haphazardly. But I read this one, and, even with the flimsy illustration, I took its central claim to heart: that “cultural signifiers” combine with structural advantages to privilege the educated, upper-middle-class in America. “How am I contributing to this problem?” I asked myself.
I asked a closed group of trusted friends in a private message thread, too, and I was spared their derision, even though some of them may have thought the question misguided. I doubt the same civil reception would have been granted by a broader, more public, social network. Which is why I share almost nothing to Facebook anymore. I have learned my lesson.
I fear we are creating an environment where the cost of being wrong is so high that fewer and fewer people even risk it. Instead, masses of people keep their opinions to themselves, certain of enlightened condemnation should their articulation falter in even one aspect.
David Brooks doesn’t need the help, sure. But it’s not just about the columnist. It’s also about readers with whom constructive, solution-oriented conversation might be had, if not for a snark-fueled social media pile on over a single illustration.
Be constructive. If you’re right, we’ll know it.