Social Media and the Stupid Things We Say

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A few weeks ago, I said something really stupid. It was insensitive and thoughtless. I do this sometimes. We all do. I was at a wedding, and my sister had just showed me a photo she’d taken of me when a very dear friend of mine walked up and gave me a massive hug. I criticized the picture of myself using the “R” word. This isn’t a word I consider part of my vocabulary, but I was raised in a different era, well before political correctness, and it slipped out before my brain registered that it was inappropriate. It did register that, but it happened too late, and I said it. In front of my sweet friend. Whose child died from a severe handicap. (Yea. Let that sink in. :/ ) Luckily for me, my friend is kind and forgiving, but most of all, my friend knows me and that this thing I said and did is out of character. She could have called me out, and I would have deserved it, but she didn’t. That fact was humbling, and I made a silent commitment to try harder to not say hurtful things.

I have thought a lot about this and how it moves in our world lately. I have witnessed two separate incidents in the last two weeks where someone publicly said or did something that other people perceived as inappropriate and hurtful. Upon being called on it, the people and/or organization in question apologized sincerely, but continued to be attacked as not enlightened enough, not sincere enough and just overall not worthy enough for the offended parties. Dozens of people jumped on the bandwagon to magnify the offense and loudly lament what cesspools of humanity we all wallow in. I was deeply bothered by both incidents. I think the biggest factor in things like this happening is that we are, more and more, interacting with people that we have no relationship with. People have always had hard conversations that resulted in both personal and social change. But, the construct where this is happening divorced from actual knowledge of your opponent, at least on a basic level, is historically quite new.

I believe that we should all work for a better world. I believe that we should all have the right to express what we think that should be. But, the fact is, that we don’t all agree on those ideas. And, none of us can dictate to the other side of the conversation what they should think and how they should react. That, by definition, makes it not a conversation at all. Yelling louder to drown out another’s opinion is not only ineffective but also quite a weak approach to promoting change. Because, while bullying can alter what people feel comfortable expressing, it can never change someone’s heart. In reality, resentment will merely bury things that could be better addressed more gently in the face of light and love. Kindness and humanity change perspectives; meanness merely makes people not like you.

I posted this on my Facebook page last year, and this train of thought brought it to mind again:

Every social interaction is a mutual and usually unspoken contract between the people or group involved. Therefore, no one person, regardless of their status in the group, gets to unilaterally decide or change that contract. If you don’t want to engage in that contract, that’s your call. But, you can’t demand that other people comply with interactions they haven’t agreed to. You can unequivocally do whatever you want, but you may find yourself yapping at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day. If your goal is to engage with people in community, those people ultimately get to decide if they agree to that relationship.

I can have strong opinions. I post them here. My husband, my friends, and my family definitely know this about me. I also genuinely try to be a kind and caring person. These things are not mutually exclusive. I have had some pretty intense conversations with left-leaning friends about things as controversial as abortion. Because we have a relationship and know some of the ins and outs of each other’s lives, we were able to dialogue about it without them implying that I don’t care about women in difficult situations and without me implying that they are baby killers. Neither of those positions would speak to our mutual respect and understanding that we both have good intentions behind our beliefs – things that allow an actual dialogue to happen that helped us both to genuinely understand an opposing position.

I don’t have all the answers on how to fix all the complex social issues that we face in today’s world. I struggle with them myself. What I can say is that things that seem impossible to reconcile seem to quiet down when we experience them on a personal level. It can be hard to love a faceless group, especially when they aren’t like you, but it’s much easier to connect with a person through a story and a life you can touch. I think that if more people approached hard things this way, on both sides of the aisle, the world would be a better place, whether our disagreements be religious, political or personal.

 

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Get Out and Vote!

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I first registered to vote in my government class as a high school senior, and I’ve been a responsible citizen ever since. I wasn’t always well versed on the issues, I have to say. I vividly remember my future father-in-law getting pretty annoyed with me when I matter-of-factly wondered why anyone wouldn’t vote for a school bond. Schools are good, right? We need schools. I understand his frustration 25 years later – even things that are good cost money, and that has to come from somewhere.

We’ve struggled a lot this year, both emotionally and financially, and election day today is a good reminder that I have so much to be grateful for. My husband watches a lot of YouTube, and he picked a documentary the other day about kids fleeing from South American countries. I had to call my often-difficult 15-year-old son into the room to watch because the perspective check was so glaring. Kids as young as 8 or 10 forage in the local landfill, are without the protection of families and many choose to flee their country because they are in constant danger, and the risk of illegal travel truly isn’t any worse. In one country they profiled (Guatemala, maybe?) the government shut down all the schools because they could not control the gang activity, making their access to even basic education minimal. Suffice it to say that it makes our own stresses look distinctly like first world problems.

It’s true that we’re barely making ends meet, but in the good old United States of American, that means that I can’t have every thing I want right when I want it. There is always food on my table. We have so many vehicles in our family right now that the fact that mine isn’t really working has been hardly noticeable. Everybody who is able to manage a job right now with their schedule has one. We own a beautiful home that still makes me want to pinch myself. I don’t take any of this for granted and try to remember that not everybody in this world is as fortunate.

I know that immigration is a hot-button issue, and this isn’t necessarily about that or how to fix the system. I don’t have the answers, really. My heart goes out to people that aren’t able to sustain their families in relative health and safety. I guess my larger point here is that we should appreciate both our rights and responsibilities as Americans. If you are registered, please consider taking the time today to find your local polling place and let your voice be heard. (Or, vote early with a mail-in like we did!) Whatever your political leanings, it’s important that you look at the issues and support solutions and candidates that resonate with you. While the media would have us believe that there is no common ground, my experience talking to people with various viewpoints is that we are more alike than we aren’t. Today, I’m proud to be an American with all of you – get out and vote!

How to Make Friends With a Conservative

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I had an interesting experience the other day. It surprised me, and then I was surprised that I was surprised by it.

I was raised in a deeply conservative religious community that translated into a pretty isolated culture. There was no internet when I was a kid, so I saw only what was directly surrounding me. (I sound so old! Hey, I could still have babies if I wanted to/was nutty enough.) I got my first computer as a young, married, isolated mama starving for connection in the late 90s, and I’ve never looked back. I still have friends that I met in some of my first mom groups when my 19-year-old daughter was tiny. To say that having my world open like that was revolutionary would be an understatement. I still remember the first time I realized that someone I interacted with was a Wiccan and how that shocked me. I’m embarrassed to admit that I spent a good day actually wondering if it was morally okay to buy, sell and trade with someone who was pagan. I was that naive. (I did finally realize that it was dumb to care. It didn’t impact anyone’s honesty and certainly didn’t hurt me in any way to know someone so different than me. I know. Duh.)

I have come a long way since the me that was a 20-year-old mom. However, I am still quite conservative, despite how transformative this year has been for me. I have family and friends across all stripes of people. I’m looking at issues in new ways and trying to understand where people are coming from. Still, I find that my conservative opinions and Christian-leaning worldview are not always welcome in public commentary, despite how careful I try to be. This makes me sad. Not because I feel like I’m a super important person that everyone should listen to, but because I’ve lived in isolation myself, and I find so much value in seeing the spectrum of humanity as, well, human. I learn the most from those who are different than myself. I don’t always agree, but it challenges me to look deeper.

My quite liberal friend posed a somewhat controversial question on her Facebook feed the other day. First, I was genuinely surprised that our opinions were on the same page. (That may truly be a first. Ha ha!) What really struck me, though, was how respectful and productive the conversation was. The dialogue was kind. Open-minded. People really wanted to learn and understand. Even people who were directly affected by the issue conceded that it was difficult and that clear answers were hard to determine. Someone I don’t even know had a different perspective than what I (tentatively) expressed, and they pointed me to where I could study a bit more about the topic.  And, then they left me to do what I might with that information and stepped back. I thanked them for sharing an alternative perspective in such a kind way. I meant it.

So much of the political dialogue that I see anymore is harsh, shrill and antagonistic. I can have strong opinions, and I have been punished for expressing them. I posted a arguably controversial opinion a few years ago about how I felt that a particular political/public figure maybe wasn’t promoting the best things. I was attacked, called a bigot and had more than a handful of liberal acquaintances unfriend me. I think I was most bothered by how much space I had made for their more left-leaning opinions over the years, and that so many of them couldn’t offer me the same courtesy. But, it is what it is.

My opinion and perspective on this particular issue has actually evolved a lot more over time, and I see it as much less black and white than I have in the past. However, not a single one of those people that virtually yelled at me had anything to do with me finding more balance. In fact, I think they probably hurt this process that has come about over time. I don’t think I’m a whole lot different than other people. I observe. I think. I really do care about other people. But, I also have a history. A background. A worldview. And, those things shift with painstaking slowness. Having people disregard your right to an opinion while they claim it for themselves does nothing but create divisions and draw lines in the sand. There is no growth in that. You go back to whatever vacuum allows that idea to live safely.

They cynic is me believes that splitting people in this way is the point – that powers-that-be like to see people in neat little rows where they can be moved and used easier. But, the truth is that we don’t have to participate in this. We don’t have to be shrill or harsh or antagonistic. Like my unknown internet companion the other day, we can offer a different perspective with kindness and gentleness, and then allow the other person the space to mull it over and decide whether they want to shift their opinion or whether they will stay put.  I will probably always be conservative-leaning. However, I feel like my mind is a little more open after my exchange with my friend’s friend, and that maybe there is one more liberal-leaning person in the world that I consider my friend, regardless of our differences. I don’t care where your belief spectrum lies, that feels like a win-win to me.