I understand why some of my friends feel compelled to periodically post “why can’t we all just get along” messages on their social media feeds. Animosity and vitriol are not the mental space most of us want to inhabit. Posting a message that expresses opinions of a political nature is probably the most common reason for these follow-up ‘mitigation’ messages. We see something that bangs up against our values or our fears and we launch a salvo of our own.
Then, we’re in the fray.
There could be any number of consequences for the things we say on social media, but it is guaranteed that one of those consequences will not be getting our point across to anyone who doesn’t already agree with us. What happens instead to these good-hearted friends of mine, is that they begin to feel anxious about the anger stirred up by expressing their opinion. People who disagree say nasty things under their post, or people who do agree, respond with inappropriately mean-spirited zeal. That’s been my personal experience anyway.
Well, so much for my simplistic psychoanalysis of that innocent behavior.
Here comes my opinion about friendship and social media.
“I’ll never let politics get between me and my friendship with you.”
“I maintain my friendships and my marriage by avoiding the topics of religion and politics.”
Please. If that’s true, then what do you really have? Do you seriously want to attempt an intimate relationship with someone by carefully avoiding uncomfortable subjects? Surely, real intimacy comes from more than realizing you both hate pineapple on pizza.
Everything is political. (I mean that literally, but that’s another discussion.) Our politics are a reflection of our values and if I consistently see that we don’t share compatible core values, well why would I waste my precious moments on this earth pretending otherwise?
“We may disagree, but I respect your opinion.”
No. The only thing I have to respect is your right to HAVE an opinion. If I think your opinion is garbage, I’m within my rights to say so. Hopefully, I won’t, but there you go.
We fix the above statement by altering it to, “We may disagree, but I respect your right to your opinion,” at which point it has become a piece of fluff hardly worth uttering.
Some of these peacemaker posts can be dismissed as overt gaslighting. I’m not interested in those. It’s the ones sincerely insisting that I accommodate the nihilistic, misinformed opinions of my fellow citizens with a smile on my face and love in my heart that I’m addressing. Love for the abstraction of “my fellow humans” sure, tolerance for ignorance and selfishness, nope. “As humans, we all just want the same thing” is no longer an assumption I’m willing to make.
If I think enough of your opinions are garbage, then I’m probably going to start asking myself if our values have any common point of reference beyond, “is human, is fellow citizen, likes the Beatles, dislikes musical theater.” I would expect you to do the same.
And thus, your suspicions are confirmed. I’m a terrible person.
But wouldn’t you agree that we are not friends just because Facebook has decided to call us such? It is in the interest of the information collectors to have us gather around common data points. The story of our interconnections is valuable to them. Our moments of shared history, so starkly delineated by Facebook, can be valuable to us as well, but not as a measure of the depth of our friendship. Facebook has powerful algorithms for determining our degrees of separation but I think most of us would agree that real friendship entails something richer than a tally of who did what (with photographic proof) and the exchange of emojis as social currency.
I’m not railing against politeness and I don’t think I’m insensitive to the trials we endure in our struggle to survive and find meaning in our lives. But if you are going to get on the podium and waste my time, with say, “Bill Gates is responsible for the Coronavirus,” then I’m going to point out that what you’ve just said is idiotic. If you keep saying it, then I’ll be moving along to the conclusion that you are saying idiotic things because you are an idiot.
Every opinion is not equally valid, and invalid opinions, if spread far enough, can become deadly.
Over two and a half billion people have agreed to let the hideous stack of inconsequential noise that is Facebook, inventory our lives for profit, myself included. Maybe I will gather up the resolve to walk away sometime soon. I hope so. In the meantime, if I’m expected to filter the unrelenting onslaught of junk that cascades down my computer screen every day, you’ll have to excuse me for calling bullshit once in a while.