Not getting angry about issues that make me angry

I have been thinking about this image a lot recently:

This graphic is taken from research published this summer. The image represents 563,312 tweets about three polarizing issues in the United States: gun control, same-sex marriage, and climate change.

The study presented two particularly compelling findings. First, tweets that are emotional and moral are retweeted significantly more than posts that are emotional without expressing moral indignation. Translated: if you want to get lots of retweets, let loose your outrage at wrongs committed by someone else.

The second intriguing finding of the study — illustrated above — is that your emotionally-amped indignation only goes viral as a ‘social contagion’ within the boundaries of your ideological group. Emotional-moral language galvanizes people to spread a message quickly, but only amongst themselves. Emotionally charged tweets about moral issues thus render a map that illustrates the polarization of society as a whole.

When I look at the image above, I reflect on my choice of words and language over the last few years. I wonder how I am implicated in this graphic. Ideally speaking, I guess I assume we all have a responsibility to forge (or reforge?) some middle ground: not because we need to compromise our convictions, but because history has nothing encouraging to say about societies that splinter at the ideological seam. But how do I, as an individual, engage with the most emotion-inducing moral debates without merely adding to the echo chamber of my choir? How do I talk about morally-charged issues without getting angry? Where am I engaged in a discourse at the convergence of these blue and red clusters? How do I intentionally not get angry about the very things that I am most angry about in the first place?

I suspect this image also captures at least some of the reason so many people I speak with do not describe the present state of Twitter as a particularly edifying experience. It seems like Twitter is, at this point, just making everyone upset. And divided.

Art Changes People and People Change the World

According to the quote meme on the internet, the musician John Butler once said, “Art changes people and people change the world.” It also seems evident that events in the world inspires the art that people create. This reciprocal nature of society and human expression has mesmerized artists, researchers, activists, historians, and ethnographers for a long time.

So, let’s talk about art and society. How are artists of all kinds describing the world right now? How are art-based strategies helping researchers better understand the experiences of individuals and groups? How does the present shape art, and how does art shape the future?

The Panel

Eugenia Canas (@EugeniaCanas) co-coordinates the Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion (CRHESI). She is a Health Information Science PhD Candidate, where she uses critical, participatory and art-based research approaches to understand issues of epistemic justice in the engagement of vulnerable populations. Eugenia holds clinical experience as an art therapist in child/adolescent oncology, working in hospital and community settings. She is a Doctoral Fellow with the ACCESS Open Minds Network at the Douglas Institute of Mental Health. She serves as mentor and facilitator in local and national research and knowledge translation initiatives, including the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s SPARK Program, the Wisdom to Action Network, and the Collaborative RESearch Team to study psychosocial issues in Bipolar Disorder (CREST.BD) .

Tom Cull (@waltercull) is the current Poet Laureate for the City of London. He grew up in Huron County alongside the Menesetung (Maitland) River. He teaches creative writing and American Studies at the University of Western Ontario, and runs Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group he cofounded with his partner Miriam Love. Tom has also served on the boards of the Urban League, Poetry London, and WordsFest. His chapbook, What the Badger Said, was published in 2013 by Baseline Press and his first full length collection of poems, entitled Bad Animals, is forthcoming from Insomniac Press (Spring, 2018). His writing has appeared in journals, anthologies, and he is the co-publisher of WordsFest Zine, an “instant” zine of occasional poetry celebrating London’s literary festival, Words.

Holly Painter (@HollyPoetry) is a spoken word artist, public speaker, and certified teacher. She is passionate about sharing her stories, inspiring audiences, and advocating for important causes through poetry. Holly has spoken to over fifty thousand youth in school and community settings and performed on stages across the country. She is the National Director of Spoken Word Canada, Director of London Poetry Slam, and a former Artist in Residence with Thames Valley District School Boad and London Arts Council.