Dissolving Disinformation

Disinformation haunts us in many ways. It causes things like the measles spike in which many members of the Orthodox Jewish communities in New York did not vaccinate their children for fear of bad side effects. Or spikes in COVID cases due to people in power saying masks don’t help. But it also causes less tangible repercussions. 

Young girl in Gay Pride tshirt.
By IrynaKhabliuk

When I was growing up in Greenville, North Carolina, I heard many pieces of disinformation. 

“Gay people will burn in hell.” 

“Gay people can not raise a family.” 

“If you are gay, it must mean you have had a crush on all your female friends.” 

“Gay people can’t get married because the Bible specifies it is only between one man and one woman.” 

The effect of this language leads to high suicide rates, depression, anxiety, loneliness, lack of confidence, distrust in humanity, and I could continue on. The solve? Of course I would like to say people should be better. But ultimately, I’ve learned not to count on that. In my opinion, what can make a change in this space is vulnerability. 

Robert D. Stolorow, in a 2015 post titled “Vulnerability” in Psychology Today, quotes from a piece by David Whyte:

“To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to be something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others.”

David Whyte from “Consolations”

I highlighted the last part because it really sums up why I think vulnerability can solve issues of disinformation. Being vulnerable enough to sit with the other side, the other opinion, can often shed light on truth. We are at the hands of media companies who want money and power, and polarization is a path to achieving that. We must create the space for the other side in order to find truth. 

I have spent a lot of time studying the work of Brené Brown, the master of vulnerability. She has done incredible work to understand what happens when we are and are not vulnerable. One of my favorite takeaways from her work is that we as human beings love to fill in the gaps. When we don’t understand something fully, we make up stories in our heads to fill that in to stop our minds from wondering. If instead, we tried approaching the subject of our wonder with vulnerability, we might find out true answers instead of biased gap fillers.

The language she offers as a tool is to simply say, “the story I am making up in my head is that you __________. How can I better understand?” We don’t ask this question nearly enough. I highly suggest reading more on vulnerability in her books, Daring Greatly and The Power of Vulnerability.  

Of course there is the argument that hearing both sides would just embolden what you already think. But I would disagree there. The LGBTQ Civil Rights movement gained massive traction when people started to be vulnerable. Daughters, brothers, fathers, and friends started coming out, which caused a hole in the stories people were hearing and telling themselves. All of a sudden, these gross animalistic gays were actually the second child of the neighbor down the street. And in fact, it wasn’t too gross because the neighbors really liked HER girlfriend. The information about burning in hell had to be rethought when that middle child was the epitome of good

What if instead of trusting the side we want to believe, we forced ourselves to be vulnerable enough to ask for the other side of the story? What if more people we vulnerable enough to share their truth. What if then there was a space for truth that didn’t lead to lost jobs, lost friends, or loneliness?

Katherine Johnson

Kate Johnson tells stories on stage, on camera, behind the camera, and in advertising at Procter & Gamble. She grew up as a gay woman in Greenville, NC, which has informed much of her adulthood. She moved to Manhattan after graduating from Penn State with a BFA in musical theater and is now at Harvard Extension School working toward a master’s in Digital Media Design. Her greatest goal is to help young women and LGBTQ youth know they are valued.

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