In my social media feed, and on the internet in general, I’ve noticed a growing surge of folks using their sacred powers of free speech to share deeply personal or highly inflammatory thoughts with those in their circles. Many of these are thoughts they might never say to the faces of their “friends.”
Some of this is healthy, this ability to give your cause a voice. I get it. I am able to sort through my thoughts more effectively in writing than verbally. The only folks who have ever heard my inner monologue at its most eloquent are those with whom I’m close. I mean close; my husband and a couple of old friends. The rest of the world will never hear from my lips a really well-spoken sentence, because for that to happen, I have to be in a safe relationship with quite a bit of age to it. That, or very angry – which doesn’t happen much.
But I swear, (long sentence warning:) if I experience much more of my very intelligent, absolutely admirable, truly wise peers and elders “sharing” sentiment along the lines of “liberals are mindless, pro-infanticide, money-squandering evil morons,” or “conservatives are cold-hearted, pro-rape, money-grubbing evil morons,” or “meat-eaters are selfish, pro-animal-cruelty, murderous evil morons,” or “Applebee’s non-organic-menu patrons are ignorant, cheap, lazy evil morons,” I’m going to bust an ulcer.
That was a lie. I don’t have an ulcer. But I do literally become sick to my stomach when I see people I love dehumanizing people I love. “People,” both in the intimate, I-actually-know-them sense and in the larger, we-are-the-world sense. I have recently “unfollowed” many folks who tend to contribute a lot of what’s mentioned above, and am more peaceful for it.
I think the very nature of social media, this thing through which we can be intensely vulnerable in every sense of the word, promotes dehumanization and applauds attacks on those whose expressions (upon being verbally stabbed) you cannot see. What a formidable enemy of the authentic connection we all need so desperately.
It’s a practice as old as time, this propensity to vilify those with different values. The scary change, though, in the age of Facebook debates and comment section chaos, is that we may never have the opportunity to sit down with these villains over a mug or a pint and see their humanity. We may never hear their stories – the good ones that make you snort or get misty. We may never discover our common interests. We may never know what their laughs sound like or get a glimpse into just what makes them tick. And that’s a shame, because it’s in those real-time moments that we connect, contrasting mission statements be damned.
This is over-simplified hogwash, you might say. You might be right. I realize there are many layers to this veritable giant onion of a quandary. There’s a lot of nuance, a lot of grey area. Like nearly everyone, I am passionate about several specific “issues,” ranging from the social to the political to the agricultural to the spiritual. Complex are these issues, multi-faceted, not easily resolved, and not easily summed up in a blog post. I fight with my time and with my dollars to see social changes and cultural shifts in these areas. I would die for a couple of them. But I will not pretend those who think differently are not worthy of respect, or that they haven’t thought through their value systems. And I won’t ignore their inherent value. I just won’t.
With that, I’ll step off my soapbox.