Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Divided We Stand

A rule of etiquette --in business, at the dinner table, at the barbershop and elsewhere—is “never talk about religion or politics.” These subjects are highly contentious and usually result in heated argument instead of general agreement. “Never discuss religion or politics with those who hold opinions opposite to yours” has been cited in print since at least 1840. “Do not discuss politics or religion in general company” is from 1879. (Source)

My family has always talked about politics.  My mother's family leans to the right and my father's family leans to the left and there is almost always a heated debate at every family function when both sides attend.  Growing up I learned so much about why each side feels the way they do about things and that, I believe, has helped me to have informed opinions.

I have tried in the last couple of years, as my girls are getting older, to not share much of my political feelings with the girls because I don't want to influence them, but they are present for the heated family discussions where they get to hear both sides of the debate.

But that is not really what I want to write about.

In my day to day life I have several close friends with whom I can discuss politics and religion.  It started out tentatively, like when a friend clutched her cell phone tightly in her hand during a playdate, checking it every few seconds because her husband's company was giving out pink slips and she was so afraid he would get one.  That lead to a discussion about the economy and we kind of "felt each other out" and got into politics once we realized we had similar feelings.  That has happened with my other mom friends, as well as with people at work and with people at church.

But on social media, people often share not their feelings, but memes.  Very confrontational memes.  Without regard to who will see it, which of their friends will agree or disagree.  It can seem very "in your face", especially if you disagree.  Then, sometimes you might feel (as I have) that you need to post memes to counter the memes your friend posted to show your feelings and to find your little regime of friends that agrees with you.  It can all get your blood pressure elevated and it's just not healthy.  I stayed away from Facebook for a while because of it.  (Now I am trying to be on a little more because there are a lot of Teen Homeschool postings that I find informative and helpful).

I had a conversation recently with a very close friend at a Fourth of July picnic with whom I have never really discussed politics; we talk about our kids and our husbands and our parents and our pets and our homes and our vacations and our plans and our dreams, but not politics.  The conversation went something like this:

"We don't all have to agree.  I don't agree with everything you post on Facebook and you probably don't agree with everything I post, but we are still friends.  We don't hold it against each other.  But some people get so offended if you post something they disagree with," my friend said.  "If we are friends and we enjoy hanging out, that is all that should matter.  You have to let the rest of the stuff go."

I thought about it and I thought: She's right.  I was petty for getting upset when someone posts something that I don't agree with.  I need to grow up and put on my big-girl pants.

But then my very good friend made a statement about the Confederate flag that was opposed to my view on what was going on in South Carolina.  WOW.  I didn't know that about her.  WOW.  I asked some questions and we talked a bit and I ended up finding out that her view was not really THAT different from mine, we just saw this one thing a little bit differently.  She saw the Confederate flag as a piece of Southern history and it could/should be flown; similar to the Gadsden flag.  Ok, I can see where she is coming from.  The conversation made me see the issue in a new way.

But on Facebook or Twitter or a blog post when someone says something, you don't necessarily get that same kind of back and forth as you would face to face.  Sure, you can comment.  But they may not respond for a while and during that time you might get more upset about things.  Something is lost when there is no face to face contact, we tend to write things we would never say face to face.

In those friendships where we "felt each other out" and found we had similar views on one or two things, that would open the door to talking about more things and often I would find we viewed many things similarly.  We agree that it is a gross use of capitalism to profit from someone's illness, then we find that we agree that Big Pharma is profiting from keeping us sick and having us take multiple medications because of the side effects of our medications, that leads to realizing we agree that our food should be labeled, which then leads to an agreement that we don't like the idea of government subsidies to farms, etc.

Likewise, I often figure that if someone views something differently than the way that I do that they view many things differently.  When I read a blog post that states that the person thinks Wall Street should hold no responsibility toward the financial crisis in 2008, I figure that person favors de-regulation of Wall Street, they probably feel that CEOs should make millions and workers should make a lot less money, they are probably against collectivism and workers' rights, they probably favor the Citizens United ruling and agree with corporations sinking tons of money into the elections to favor a certain candidate....and it goes on and on and on.  Maybe I am right, maybe I am wrong, but before long, if the person continues to post or say things I disagree with, I start to dislike the person because I feel that they are against me and everything I stand for and I decide I am probably better off leaving that person alone.

Studying history with the girls, I have come to realize that there has always been issues of abuse of power, economic issues, differing opinions on government policy, threats from other countries...none of this is new.  There were always people who had different opinions.  But social media is new.  Social media, it seems to me, is dividing us further.  We are posting things in response to other people's posts and reposting things because we think it makes a statement and that statement is like drawing a line in the sand.  I have little patience for apathy and I definitely encourage being informed, but posting and reposting memes just to make a statement, that is dividing us further.  We are digging in our heels with each meme and oftentimes it seems like we are becoming more and more extreme to one side or the other and that makes me fear our future.