The internet is a scary place to be these days. I see all too frequent attacks, one “friend” to another, such fierce accusations against character and morality, that it makes you wonder what these same people would say in person, face-to-face with a friend. It makes me long for a compulsory social media etiquette class, like you find in some high schools today. Unfortunately, the perpetrators I am seeing lately are double and triple the age of today’s teens, and should probably know better. And I get it, the world feels crazy and the stakes feel so high that we want to put on our internet battle armor, but it might help to remember some things I admittedly learned the hard way a few years back. I used to be someone who sent daily local political emails and a lot of people cheered me on, but others quietly shook their heads at my audacity. I was humbled a lot in those days, and I try today to see other perspectives more and elevate myself less, though assuredly not always successfully. These are some ideas I try to keep in mind.
- If you hold a belief, like a political view or social idea, it is opinion. Therefore, you can bet that others will hold opinions contrary to yours, and that doesn’t make them stupid or ignorant or evil. They are taking in information and sifting it through the filters of their own experiences, just like you are.
- That icon or picture or name you are furiously typing your argument against probably represents someone with whom you’ve shared a beer, a pizza, or a memory. Maybe several of them. He is a flesh and blood person, with experiences and history. She is not a meme. She has a family and friends and a heart and soul.
- Read what you’re typing before you click ‘send’. If, in the same scathing paragraph, you write about the ideals of openness and inclusivity and yet berate another person for their beliefs, please check yourself. You sound like a hypocrite, and it just might be obvious to everyone but you.
- If you sit back smugly after a post and privately high-five yourself for your brilliance while hoping beyond hope someone will challenge you so you can write yet another fantastic missive, stop a minute. Are you defending an idea or are you promoting your own ego? Again, it’s probably obvious to everyone except you.
- If you really have a problem with a friend’s political or social post, and you want to talk more about an idea, the best place to do that is probably not on someone’s public ‘wall’ or feed, but privately, with respect, like grownups. That person is your friend, after all, not just your “friend”.
- No social media post ever changes anyone’s mind. We can feel bolstered, inspired, and motivated when we scroll through posts, but I haven’t heard of many minds that were changed by a Facebook treatise. What does change minds: quiet, humble interactions with honest-to-God living people, doing things we admire so much that we want to listen more to what they say.
The bottom line is, everything changes. This election season will likely be awful, but it will come and go and we will all have to live with the results, for better or worse. Do you really want to lose friends in the process? If your friend feels differently from you about a social or political issue, should they be dropped as somehow unworthy of you? That seems awfully smug and self-congratulatory, and who wants to be part of a group who agrees on every issue, anyway? Sounds kind of tedious and boring to me. No matter who you are, if you are still waking up every day and breathing, you probably have more to learn, and sometimes we can find wisdom and understanding in the most unlikely places. Let’s listen more and type less.