The Bridge – April 2021

The Bridge is a platform created and administered by our student party to connect with the students of UM and form a spirit of community and contribution. Each month, contributors write a text to tell you about their opinion, an event they have found interesting, … It is pretty free! If you too would like to share your texts, contact us 😉
All views expressed in these articles are the writers’ own and do not represent NovUM’s official or unofficial position.

Socializing during the pandemic

As a follow-up to my article from last month, this month I wanted to look at the impact of Covid-19 on the way we socialize. We have experienced major changes throughout the last year. In pursuit of controlling the spread of Covid, face-to-face conversations have been replaced by Zoom meetings, social events have been cancelled and interpersonal interactions are regulated by the state. All these changes have made it difficult to keep our sanity, as I discussed in my previous article. Data clearly associates isolation measures with rising levels of depression, stress, and emotional disturbance.

Social relations have become strained for some, as individuals fear interacting with others due to the high contagion risk. Although social distancing is an appropriate public health message it often leads to suspicion of other people other due to the underlying assumption that everyone is a carrier of the virus. This results in a dilemma: How can we protect ourselves as best we can while still maintaining or creating relationships? What is the impact of Covid-19 on our social skills?

The social life of students is particularly affected. Socializing primarily online can provide a false sense of how interpersonal relationships go. If you say something inappropriate, you cannot unsend the message in real life. Somehow, the internet sometimes increases the urge to say things we would not say to someone’s face. Furthermore, socializing solely through apps, especially dating apps, creates a particular image of the person we are conversing with that may not match how they are in person. Thus, it is important to meet in real life, while respecting the social distancing rules. If that is not an option, talking over the phone or video as much as possible could be an alternative.

Finally, anxiety can quickly spread through social networks. Some of us post our worries on social media to receive comfort from our friends. Sometimes this leads to a phenomenon that is known as “emotional contagion” where people ‘catch’ the worries of others. The question is, how can we minimize this?On the one hand, it is important to reach out when we are struggling and talking to a friend or a trusted person can do wonders and there is no shame in doing so. However, reducing screen time can benefit mental health. Using apps to control our phone activity could be a great tool to achieve this. It is so easy to be prisoners of our own thoughts, which is why we must engage with real life now more than ever. At risk of sounding like a broken record, we should not underestimate the positive benefits of going for regular walks with a friend, avoiding alcohol and doing something to help others. In very tough cases such as extreme anxiety, contact the GP or the UM psychologist.

In conclusion, the effects of the pandemic on our social interactions are felt by all of us. It is essential to remind our student community that we are all in this together and that we can defeat this by taking care of our mental health and by nurturing our social relations, since they are now more important than ever.

Finally, I hope to see at least some of you on 26th April when the University opens its doors again!

Ioana Petrescu

Fostering dialogue in polarising times

A look at state of today’s society reveals the ever-larger societal fragmentation that has been occurring for the past decades. Nothing is as indicative of this trend as the Trump presidency, in particular the man himself, who has seemingly exposed the ugly underbelly of American society through his bigoted rhetoric and questionable policies. The presence of such a figure clashes with the more progressive facet of society that had grown under Obama, thus driving American society to the extremes.

To observe this, one need look no further than their own ‘feed’, where Virtual World Wars are being waged every day on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The belligerents hail from both sides of the political spectrum but they are united in the uncontrollable urge to argue fiercely over their differences. What makes these discussions so polarising is that neither side is truly open to understanding or listening to one another, preferring to scream ad hominems until they are blue in the face to assert the dominance of their perspective. This is facilitated by the layer of anonymity that the internet provides, where people are free to express their unfiltered beliefs without direct social repercussions. This only further radicalises individuals to their own beliefs and widens the divide.

The point of this brief essay is to understand what steps can be taken in order to curb the phenomenon of polarisation. Tristan Harris, in his podcast: Your undivided attention” interviews Shamil Idriss, the CEO of Search for Common Ground – an NGO that has dedicated itself to finding creative ways to resolve conflict around the globe. During the interview Idriss is questioned on what steps platforms could take in order to stop polarisation and help foster more meaningful interactions. In response, he explains that polarisation is the product of ignorance and can be solved by creating understanding between people. He explains that his NGO achieves this by bringing together individuals from conflicting sides to engage in a small-group dialogue. At the core of this approach lay the goal of creating personal connections between the two groups. These sessions would push the participants to discover their similarities and thus lead them to see one another as people rather than faceless enemies. Once these more personal connections are be made, then they tackle the more polarising topics. This time, rather than being argumentative and closed off, the participants would be more open to listening to each other’s prospective and thus be more tolerant and accepting of one another.

Idriss’ approach showcases how common ground can be found once the opinions are given a face and name. Having these discussions without the anonymity of an avatar, forces individuals to see ‘the other’ as a person deserving of respect and thus leaves no space for ignorant biases and false assumptions. Therefore, in order to foster this type of growth on social media, those who design social media platforms need to create anenvironment where the more personal aspect can manifest itself. That is how to stop polarisation.

Alexander Bijoux

How to Clean the Conscience of the 1%?

The American Dream is the belief that our destiny is purely the consequence of our actions. This dream is built on the assumption that society is meritocratic, and it is the most intelligent and hard-working who get ahead. It is a highly influential idea, which appeals to our desire to control our fate by disregarding the unpredictable and unfair aspects of life.

The principal is that success is not achieved as a result of luck or innate advantage but hard work. Meritocracies fuel a self-fulfilling prophecy. The idea of meritocracy ignores unflattering truths such as the fact that that the 1% dominates the Ivy League, creating the illusion that the super-rich are geniuses, gurus, and supremely productive entrepreneurs.

Therein lies the irony of the American Dream. Whilst coming from a country built on the backs of slaves and low-wage immigrant workers exploited by the colonial aristocracy, it assumes an even playing field in the world of work and education.  

In reality, despite many emerging findings on the benefits of diversity, individuals inherently favour what is comfortable, what feels like home to them. We tend to hire people who remind us of ourselves, unconsciously feeding into such inequality by filling positions of power with one kind of person.

Additionally, meritocracy cleverly overlooks the numerous findings proving the importance of parenting in determining a child’s success. It dismisses the importance of equity in opportunity. Inequality is further exacerbated by today’s pandemic, with unequal access to resources, and underpaid jobs suddenly classified as “essential workers”, without being paid a wage which reflects their acknowledged importance in society. Michael Young’s “The Rise of Meritocracy” gives us a dystopian glimpse at what a fully meritocratic world would look like: a rise in income inequality, disillusionment, and, ultimately, a chaotic popular revolt; the grand finale in which we find ourselves today, with a clear disconnect between the lower class disappointed by the unequal access to resources, and a less empathetic elite, believing that their position in power is the sole consequence of effort and intellectual dominance. A paradox in meritocracy is thus identifiable: what originally were mechanisms of social mobility slowly became a fortress of privilege. It has moralised nepotism by clearing the conscience of those benefitting from it.

Marcos León Santiago

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