In his last speech President Obama spoke of the “bubble” in which people like to cocoon themselves these days, particularly on social media. They follow people with views that are similar to their own, and block, unfollow or mute people who disagree with those views. In this way they ensure that they live in a friendly bubble, where they only hear what they want to hear. The problem, as Obama pointed out, is that they become so secure in their bubbles that they accept only information, whether true or not, that fits their opinions, instead of basing their opinions on the evidence that’s out there.
And so it is with so many of those who find fault with our family justice system, and complain about how the system is unfair or biased. I’ve followed this fixed-mind-set phenomenon for almost as long as the internet has been around. These people go on forums where they only find like-minded people, they find discussion groups where no contrary views are heard, and they tailor their social media feeds to make sure no one with a contrary view is heard. They then find themselves in a place in which their world-view is constantly being confirmed, leaving them ever surer of the righteousness of their cause.
And when they do venture out and confront anyone with the temerity to put forward a different view, they bombard them with their righteous indignity, and more often than not call upon their like-minded friends to do the same. In this way they ensure that the contrary view is shouted down.
This, of course, is, no way in which to form a reasonable opinion, and no way to conduct a reasonable debate. The family justice system is far from perfect, a point that I have made here on many occasions, but to find out what is wrong with it we must look at it from all sides, and listen to the views of all, not just those with a fixed view, usually based upon the limited experiences of themselves and those they choose to follow.
Perhaps the two most vociferous group of bubble-dwellers are the parents, usually fathers, who are aggrieved because they feel that they are not having the amount of contact with their children to which they believe they are entitled, and the spouses, usually husbands, who feel that the divorce courts have not awarded them a fair share of the matrimonial assets. The members of these groups spend enormous amounts of their time online, sharing their grievances with others who feel the same way. They share stories of apparent unfairness or bias in the system and before long they become convinced that this is how the entire system is.
Well, of course the system may fail some who go to it seeking justice. In my twenty-five-odd years practising I saw this happen, and I’m sure it still happens to this day. But to suggest that the entire system is unfair or biased is completely absurd.
If the naysayers could just break out of their bubbles, they would see that for a huge number of its users the system does work reasonably well. Courts do make reasonable arrangements for children that ensure that their welfare is properly met. Courts do order financial settlements on divorce that are fair towards both of the parties. And if something does go wrong, then more often than not it is corrected on appeal.
Now, none of this is of course to say that anyone, including inveterate bubble-dwellers, should be denied a say when it comes to possible reform of the family justice system. However, if someone who wishes to have a say has clearly seen and listened to a broad spectrum of views then surely their own opinion is likely to a more useful opinion, which carries greater weight? And maybe, just maybe, if the odd bubble could be pricked, then its occupant may find greater enlightenment and therefore a have a view that we should all listen to.
Photo by Dykam via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.