Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why I'm Unfollowing Everyone I Disagree with on Facebook

Recently, an old friend of mine posted an article on Facebook entitled: "The Real Reasons Why Women Shouldn't Serve in Combat Positions." And I thought for sure it was satire. Or a throwback to an article from the 1920s. But it wasn't. It was a real person writing their modern-day opinions about how women will just never measure up to men. Let's just say, it wasn't a thoughtful piece. All of the blanket statements left me sweltering under the weight of it all.

And it changed the way I view that person.

In the past few years on Facebook, I've witnessed:

-a youth pastor from my childhood posting dehumanizing (a.k.a. sexist) caricatures of Hillary Clinton's face imposed on the body of a roasted chicken with the caption, "Two fat thighs, two small breasts, and a bucket of left wings!"

-my old elementary school teacher arguing about "the gays" and where they belong these days

-a childhood friend demanding that Obama "fess-up" to being a Muslim

-a family friend writing about how "Black Lives Matter" is a terrorist group

and an endless list of other opinions posted online for all to read.

And while it's probably no surprise that I find a lot of these positions to be sexist, dehumanizing, racist, and flat-out lies, I'm not oblivious that some people find my positions to be equally bizarre.  It all depends on where you're standing. None of us are entirely right or entirely wrong.
I wonder if we're just entirely too connected.

Because ten years ago, I didn't know the political affiliations of my volleyball coach.
And my pastor. And the woman who cuts my hair.
And I didn't need to. Because it didn't matter.
What mattered was knowing each other and sharing stories and learning from each other.

At it's best, knowing where we stand politically just enhances our understanding of each other. Having friends and family with various points-of-view is important and necessary and it makes it harder to make generalizations about "Republicans" and "Democrats" when you actually know some of each. But, I would argue, knowing everyone's opinions is only truly valuable, when you can sit down and have a conversation and respectfully listen to each other.

Except that now, we have this thing called the Facebook And we've tried to move some of these conversation to this new platform. So it's a place where people you know regularly say things that you kind of wish you'd never known. Not because you are intolerant to each other's views, but because, when limited to a sound bite, it's harder to have a good or healthy conversation.

Because there's no ground rules.
Because each "conversation" may take hours
(instead of what might've taken ten minutes in person).
And you spend hours of your life waiting for that person to comment.
And even when you're doing the dishes, you're thinking about what witty comment you'll make next.
And maybe that person doesn't respond at all. Ever.
So you're left with that person's angry, racist cousin from Connecticut who dropped in on the conversation.
But you don't even know them.
You never even wanted to talk to them.
And that's about as good as it gets sometimes.
Especially around areas for which we care. Deeply.

Election season, anyone?

I'm pretty sure that we are all going to vote the way we are going to vote. And no amount of FB posts about how Donald Trump scares me or how I'm worried that we are letting fear win or how it baffles me that a sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, bully could be our next president keeps me up at night, would change anyone's vote.

So do I plaster FB with my opinion?
Or do I have conversations with people in real life?
I think we know that one would be more effective, but we also know one requires more courage.

Ten years ago, what I knew about the people in my life, was what they demonstrated to me in-person. I think that's okay. Because in the words of most of our grandparents, 
"There are three things you're not 
supposed to discuss in polite company: 
religion, politics, and money."

Does "polite company" extend to our online world?
Can it? I'm not sure.
Because we're all just trying to figure this out.
I don't think we're benefiting by watching each other grow-up on the Internet.

As Sherry Turkle, a tech writers, says, "Just because we've grown up with the Internet, doesn't mean the Internet is grown-up." We are just adolescents in this big digital world. We are all learning day-by-day how to be together online. And if Internet trolls and Donald Trump's Twitter feed tell me anything, it's that we are all just trying to figure this out as we go. Some better than others.

So because we don't have ground rules for the Internet, I'm making some for myself. 

Over the past six months, I've been quietly Unfollowing a lot of people that I disagree with on Facebook. Not Unfriending. Not refusing to read all opinions that differ from mine. Just unfollowing the most hateful. The most unhelpful. Unfollowing the folks who can't let a picture of President Obama playing with his dog pass by their News Feed without saying something about "that African Muslim we've got in the White House."

I just can't.
I just won't.
My heart can't carry all of this.
I'm not sure it was ever meant to.

I imagine some might say, "But if you hide everyone on FB that you disagree with, how will you encounter new ideas that stretch and grow your mind to consider opinions you don't like?"

And to that I would say, "The same way we did ten years ago before Facebook. In real life."

And in real life, we are pretty civil. And kind. And we don't blurt out, "#ALLlivesmatter!" in line at the grocery store. Or walking our dogs at the park. Because that's weird. And unnecessary.

And so, I'm not deleting my Facebook.
I'm not disappearing from all social media.
But I am setting some ground rules for myself and my sanity.
Because I want to engage with the world from a place of hope and abundance, not fear and scarcity.
And I see that all around in me in real life.
And less often online.
And so...

I'm checking FB once a week.
The only FB notifications I get in my email inbox are for Personal Messages.
I'm getting my News on Twitter.
And I'm not following anyone I know who may be posting on Twitter.
But I'm following a wide variety of thinkers on-line.
I'm listening to Black Lives Matter.
I'm listening to Blue Lives Matter.
I'm lending my ear to Hillary Clinton.
And even The Donald.

Because I value a wide variety of opinions.
And I'd rather give my full attention and respect to people I love in-person.
Not just bicker with them online.


B said...

Nicely written article.

On the inside, I'm a debater...but I don't tend to discuss politics with friends and family, even if I think we agree on most things....I dont want to damage relationships over a few issues.
As a Christian teacher, I also don't want to alienate people by supporting one candidate or another. I think that it undermines the more important reason that we are here. Following God in our personal lives is more important, in my opinion.

There is a place for political discussion, but it should be away from the dinner table, and we shouldn't let it interfere with our larger goals.

Anyways, good article, thanks for sharing :)