Political speech increases during presidential elections, and people seem to have more to say on the matter today than ever. Perhaps only the visibility of the speech has increased, because social media has made it significantly easier for the common man with an opinion to reach others.
If you’re anything like me, you have at least one friend, family member, coworker, or acquaintance who relentlessly posts political articles, manifestos, and rebuttals to other posters.
Facebook serves as a venue for political discussion because so many people are on it, use it regularly, and there’s no character limit. Anyone can post a rambling indictment of some politician or entire groups of people. The accusations people make behind the safety of the computer screen can be stunning and offensive.
Sure, try to avoid getting involved in the debate. Good luck outlasting the Political Poster.
It’s a mere matter of time before the bait cannot be ignored. I have followed the rabbit hole by reading and/or participating in those threads from time to time. While sometimes they end well, all too often the replies turn nasty.
Undeniably, this country and the people inside it have a lot of problems to overcome. Social media at its best has been an agent for change and reformation, but we’re not going to resolve any issues with divisive rhetoric.
So what can we do?
Respond with positive intent.
Are you trying to have an actual conversation where two sides respect each other and exchange information? Or are you responding in a vindictive effort to embarrass someone online? If it’s the latter, then think twice about saying something regretful.
Opinions can be changed with new perspectives. As it turns out, the opinion to get changed may just be your own. If we expect another person to change his or her mind, then we should be willing to consider another viewpoint at the expense of our own.
Consider new information, and be open to it influencing your opinion.
It’s only fair.
Walk a mile in their shoes.
It’s called empathy, and it’s the cornerstone of being an understanding, compassionate human being.
A number of factors play into the harsh ways people speak to one another both through the Internet and in person. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we’re all in this together, so we have to remind ourselves of that by trying to see the world from another perspective.
Empathy may take some practice in such an individualistic society, but it’s a pivotal piece to humanity solving problems together. Our differences don’t make us weaker.
They strengthen us.
In “Human Family,” Maya Angelou beautifully captures the many intricacies of humans. The wise writer, historian, and traveler admits to all the many ways we people differ one another, but she cannot help but convince us of our shared experiences. The message she delivers is so important she repeats her conclusion three times: “We are more alike, my friends/ than we are unalike.”
Practice empathy. Try it the next time someone tells you a story. Try it the next time someone brings up your hot button issue. Try to see if you are more alike than unalike.
Make an argument. Stay on point.
You’ve got differences of opinion and that’s a good thing. Be passionate and say how you feel, but try to be reasonable and respectful. Hyperbole generally inflames people, so try to avoid sensationalizing your content.
Address the other person’s points, make your own, and give punctuation a chance. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but some effort goes a long way.
Be careful when writing overly long Facebook posts. They tend to stray from the original point and the debate spirals out of control. The world offers plenty of subjects to be outraged about on a day-to-day basis, so let’s focus on debating/resolving one at a time. There will be time for other topics to be debated, but right now stay on the subject at hand.
Get heated? Take a walk.
Politics provoke passion. We need more passionate people to think, write, and express their thoughts and feelings in a constructive manner. Passionate, informed voices serve as the foundation of a successful democratic system.
It seems all too easy and common, however, for that passion to devolve into something otherwise regretful. It seems especially the case when this interaction plays out over the digital space, a barrier between two voices. It makes it so much easier to lash out and say hurtful things when there are no immediate consequences like a wounded or angry look.
If some response feels particularly inflaming and the anger wells inside, then take a break from the conversation.
Take a walk.
The words we say matter, and those that stem from anger rarely end well.
Irreconcilable differences do happen.
You can debate all you want. You can try to stay on point, be empathetic, and stay positive. You can even go for a walk to cool down, come back, and try to find common ground anew. But sometimes in life you have to draw the line in the sand for what you believe. Perhaps this debate on a social media site proves to be the final conversation in a less than meaningful Internet friendship.
Look, friendships end every day. What better way to reinforce your beliefs/righteousness than by spurning some traitor you once called your friend?
You have options.
Option One: Just go to fucking town. Burn the bridge.
Obviously, your opinions are right.
Just go ahead and unload all that fucking anger and frustration that’s been eating you up inside for God knows how long. Tear into this person who likely is working through similar feelings of anger and frustration. Twist the knife with some petty, personal bullshit that will really make the person feel terrible.
Maybe some secret you swore to protect? Not so secret anymore.
Some flaw of theirs you’ve noticed? Call it out in public.
It doesn’t even have to be a big thing. It could just be a scathing, superior-sounding sentence or two. Hit it quick, then Unfriend!
It’ll feel fantastic in the short term, potentially quite cathartic. As an added bonus, your friends, family, and coworkers may be quite interested to follow your farewell in their feeds.
Option Two: Be really passive aggressive about it.
You could “Unfollow” the person so nothing they post shows up in your feed, but you otherwise maintain your name on their Friend list. This will not have really resolved your differences in any way, but at least you won’t see those baiting, anger-inducing posts anymore. Your “friend” likely won’t know what you’ve done. They will simply become some name on a list.
Option Three: Reconsider your decision that the difference is irreconcilable.
Political ideology may fall on different ends of the spectrum, but the very ability to debate on this digital frontier proves how truly connected we are despite these differences. Out of all the species on this planet, only human beings have the ability to communicate across entire continents and oceans in an instant.
Yes, there will be newer technologies in the future to make Facebook passé.
But it’s taken us thousands of years to get here, and it’d be silly of us to waste these opportunities to pull perspectives from the wealth of human experience living on this planet. Nature and history have shown the power with strength in numbers, but it doesn’t have to be huge sums of people. We can work together to formulate new ideas. We can create our dreams when we utilize each other’s skills. Change can happen, and it’s often as simple as a conversation.
It starts with one person: you.
You control your attitude and your effort.
You control how you behave when communicating with others.
You have the ability make a positive change in someone’s life, even if it’s only a small demonstration of respect. Should you think about choosing Option One or Option Two, just remember, my friends, we are more alike than we are unalike.