In the mid-to-late 1980’s, I ran with a crowd of artsy folk, a very passionate and opinionated assemblage and not one of them was shy about holding forth.
At dinner parties, or at the bar following a show, I’d quietly listen while my companions bickered and bantered. I was particularly quiet if the conversation turned to current events or politics.
This was partly due to my conversation style. Some would suggest it’s a female’s way of conducting herself. That is, if I did have something to contribute to the discussion, I’d wait for an opening, or an invitation. Considering the makeup of this crowd, that couldn’t happen. Each “man” was for himself, as it were.
But more often than not, I didn’t have anything add. What did I know of the political issues of the day? Not much. I usually tuned out the news. If, on the rare occasion I did take in an editorial piece, I got the feeling that I was getting only half the story. Because, the exact opposite opinion was expressed in the next edition, if not the next page.
More or less, at our gatherings, I was happy to sit on the sidelines, slowly getting drunk, and blending in with the woodwork.
One evening, at a dinner party, we were in the living room for dessert and coffee. It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to some hot-button issue. This time, my reaction was different.
First, I grew bored. I stretched out on the couch. It occurred to me that I was more or less invisible to this crew. That made me pouty. They didn’t even bother to include me in the discussion! That pissed me off. Listen to them spew and spout! I was indignant that they claimed to have the answer, to know it all! Then I grew fearful for I detected such disrespect, such hostility! They are enjoying this sparring, this blood-letting as sport! How outrageous!
It was around this time that I read The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron. What she had to say about the introverted personality made complete sense to me, especially in context of these dinner party harangues.
What a revelation! How immature of me, right? I mean, who takes these things seriously? This was just my friends’ way of engaging and having some fun, some lively and stimulating conversation.
Fast forward thirty years. This time, for the first time in my life, I do have opinions about the current political climate. I do read the news. I can comfortably hold my own in conversations about political issues.
Of course, these conversations are either face-to-face discussions, or online commentary with people who share the same opinion.
Van wrote the other day about how Facebook used to be fun. But now she has decided to scale back on her social media interactions in order to sidestep the minefield that is the current political state of affairs.
Today, I visit Facebook regularly in my capacity as social media coordinator for several non-profit organisations. I also stay in touch with my family via the chat pages. I am a member of several hobby-related groups that are well-moderated. To be sure, marketing is Zuckerberg’s number one priority, but I use it to my advantage in terms of promoting my community groups. Who needs the Yellow Pages when you’ve got Facey-space? Yes, there is good to be found on the site.
Lately, however, like Van and the bloggers who commented on her post, I too, have un-followed if not un-friended several of my contacts.
I’m torn about deleting and filtering those whose opinion differs than mine because I don’t want to live in an “echo chamber.” I tell myself that I want to have thoughtful and respectful dialog with people who sit at the same table as me, even if they sit opposite.
However, if I was honest with myself, I’d have to confess that I have no desire to enter into a dialog with folks who spew venom and hatred. I think, instead, my motive is along the lines of “keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.”
In the last few years, and certainly since November 8, 2016, suddenly, I find myself in that long-ago living room, experiencing a range of unsettled emotions as I observe online interactions. This time, though, the level of vile and frightening commentary goes far beyond my friends’ “lively and stimulating conversation.” To learn that people in my circle carry such hatred, that they carry narrow and fearful views of the world, and that they carry guns! That’s a combination that scares the hell out of me!
Years ago, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with a social worker friend. We were talking about the arguments we had with our partners. I confessed that I didn’t always fight clean. That, from time to time, my words hit home, hard. I regretted that, but couldn’t seem to change my tactics.
She told me to make eye contact. To look for the reaction in my partner’s eyes. She claimed that once I could see the impact of my hurtful words, I would be inclined to de-escalate the attacks. In her opinion, face-to-face, or even better, eye-to-eye engagement means that empathy can prevent or diminish hostility.
I’d like to think that the people on social media who spew hatred and violence would not come anywhere close to acting on their thoughts. That their words are simply that, empty shells of impotent rage and fear. I’d like to think that if I were to meet these people face-to-face, eye-to-eye, I’d find out that I could enjoy their company, that we’d share a smile, have a few laughs.
I will continue to use Facebook for the good it has to offer. I really don’t have a choice since I have obligations to meet. Actually, for some of the organizations that I represent, it is forbidden that I “take sides.” I must remain strictly non-partisan in my public engagement.
In order to make social media more palatable, I’ll reduce the news items I read, and continue to un-follow contacts who feel compelled to lash out online. I’m hardly equipped to challenge them, and besides, it’s not my job to set them straight. Not on social media, anyway. That venue is like a cock-fight – all talons and hysteria and bloodthirsty onlookers. Nobody wins. As a matter of fact, innocents are slaughtered.
If it comes up in conversations offline, that will be a different matter. One that I will deal with, when, and if, the time comes. I pray I’ll have the courage to conduct it face-to-face, and eye-to-eye.
Categories: Personal Growth