Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

Civil Discourse – Then and Now




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

Tags: , , ,

49 replies

  1. I am so not a confrontational person. Online…..I just read and walk away. Not on FB, so that is a huge help–it sounds scary out there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some days I wish I had never signed on to FB. It seems to bring out the worse in some people.

      I’m not confrontational either, Lois – especially with people I don’t know well.

      It astounds me, though, the number of people who feel compelled to scold or full out attack someone else on social media.

      I strongly believe that because the platform is NOT face-to-face, therefore impersonal in a way, it emboldens some people.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, so eloquently said: “Silence encourages the tormentor never the tormented.” In this day and age, will my point of view be deemed “Fake News?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there – I agree that we need to speak out against the tormentors, or at the very least speak up for the tormented. I don’t think, though, that Facebook and Twitter are the best platforms.

      To answer your question: yes. Anything that does not jive with POTUS’ POV is fake.


  3. What can I say, Maggie? You write what I think and feel – both past and present.

    I don’t want to get into any these high octane discussions – in my experience no one has ever changed their opinion or perspective on an issue because of one of these ‘debates’. They just make me feel anxious and uncomfortable.

    You and I can sit quietly in the corner and sip our wine.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I also go back and forth between wanting to screen my social media interactions and not wanting to only hear from those I agree with. But, before and now after the election I found myself getting so angry at what I read. I wanted to respond, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good or change anyone’s mind. So, I have unfollowed most of the people who I found myself often getting angry at. I know that means that I don’t hear the “other side” but, frankly the other side is stupid 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Social media always felt like a “had to” sort of thing…everyone I knew was doing it so… It was quite a while back that I realized I don’t have to be a follower, and most of my contacts held very different views than mine. So very different that it wasn’t even intellectually stimulating to keep in contact with them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hear you: I don’t turn to Facebook for deep, meaningful discussion with my contacts.

      I’ve been on FB for ten years, judging by my profile – It was an easy way to keep in touch with my friends and family who lived far away – and at that time, most of them did. Now that I think of it, since I’ve moved north, ALL of them live far away now.

      I agree that there is an element of de rigueur involved. As a matter of fact, I’ve been a proponent of the site and have encouraged my non-profits to have a presence and to remain active. For better or worse, being on FB adds an element of legitimacy to business or group if they have a profile.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. First, I know that book too (it’s me too except for the shy part). This is a thoughtful post. Indeed, it’s always swell to learn angry, mean-spirited people own firearms [insert eye roll]. Here’s what I think: that people who are nasty online (where so much of our lives take place now) are revealing something important about themselves EVEN IF in person they are reasonable, civil, charming, and capable of interacting like a decent human being. People are often surprised when they learn of unsavory aspects of an individual’s character that they previously hadn’t seen. The internet simply offers a newish way to see them. In my book what happens online counts. I’ll listen to opposing views if they are framed civilly and reasonably. Online isn’t a great source…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your comments, Colette, which have made me think.

      I agree that online comments are revealing, and I also agree that I won’t forget what I’ve learned online when I encounter that person in “real” life.

      For my own sake, though, in order to actually step outside into the “real” world again, I have to believe that there is a wide gap between what a person speaks and what a person actually does.


  7. In my neighborhood, my voice remains largely silent. My friends and I have very differing opinions, best left alone. Online, on Facebook, those opinions can be voiced, respectfully, factually. I do not abide with name calling, slamming, rudeness – although there are times I am oh so tempted. If I were in position, location wise and financially, I would be out there marching, standing up for my beliefs, respectfully. I feel a responsibility to do so, despite my certainty that those on the opposite side of the fence will change their minds only when their sky, their dreams, come crashing down around them. Perhaps that is what needs to happen – the crashing down of our world as we know it do we can build anew.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for commenting, Carol. You are living in the midst of it, real time. I’m encouraged that you’ve found a way to have a voice online.

      The change will come, I’m certain. When and how, of course, remains to be seen. I keep fantasizing some sort of act of God. Sooner, rather than later, and with as few casualties as possible.


  8. So glad you did this one, Maggie. It is inspired. The point about empathy is my favorite…it is so much easier to spread venom via the keyboard. I’d like to believe some of this cock fight would never happen eye to eye. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sadly, I agree with writerinsoul. You can’t separate the online person from the offline person. Once you see the venom, you know it’s there.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I have unfollowed and unfriended quite a few people and left a number of groups because of tribal chest-thumping. I don’t mind hearing a full range of opinions but I am deeply troubled by those who feel that only their opinions matter and it stuns me that some people simply cannot comprehend why half the country does not agree with them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The word “tribal” says it all.

      I haven’t encountered “mob mentality” in real life. Up until now, that is.

      I must examine this, because there is part of me that does not believe that the hostility and attacks are to be taken too seriously. Hence the quotation marks.

      What I mean to say is, through all of this post writing and commentary, I’m starting the think that I might be in denial as to just how bad it is.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Well said. I have unfollowed several friends on both sides because the venom is upsetting. I thought it would end with the election but it hasn’t. A few weeks ago several couples got together for dinner. One brought up politics and it was getting heated. I stood up and said “No more politics please. We all have differing opinions.” It stopped but it had already put a damper on the night for me. (and altered my opinion of some) My question is, will this go on for 4 years? Some of my friends think something will happen. Opinions differ as to what but it’s all unsettling as is the current situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Kate.
      It occurs to me that being Canadian, I should acknowledge that I’m not even in the thick of it as you are. It takes a certain strength of character to deal with this. I’m glad that you found the courage to ask that the debate stop. It would have unsettled me for the rest of the evening, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I “echo” your sentiments on many levels Maggie. However, I’ve become far more selective with my social media interactions because I see the futility in conversations that cannot be resolved within the confines of Facebook (or its far more limited cousin Twitter). I’ve seen these platforms become a cauldron for fomenting angst rather than generating meaningful dialog.

    There are still plenty of wonderful, insightful, and pithy moments to be gleaned from social media, so I won’t completely abandon this one cherished distraction from reality (and I am also hoping to find a means of marketing my blog on social media). However, I’ve mentally put it in the same box as those guilty pleasures, like the midnight Snickers or watching Game of Thrones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Gabe! I LOL’d at your “echo” remark.

      Yes, when I observe (I have yet to partake – I only watch from a safe distance) the discussions, angry mobs with pitchforks and torches come to mind. There’s no room for heart-to-hearts here.

      I like your approach to the site – treat it as a source of occasional distraction. For certainly, there are nuggets of goodness to be found! And games. I like the games. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. What a thoughtful post, Maggie. As an occasional dirty fighter with my dear spouse (Ie. shouting from the other room), I believe I’ll take the advice to look him in the eye in the future. Its the same approach that should be used on social media but alas is not – that if you wouldn’t say it in person why are you saying it online? I am now permanently off FB and have discovered I have a lot more time for real life. And reading. And my anxiety is WAY down. I admire people who can use the tool will no ill affect but that’s not moi.


    • Thank you, Susanne!

      I envy your FB-free existence. I understand about the anxiety – when I see the little red notifications, I pause briefly to brace myself and I wonder, are they spam? Is someone being nasty? Will I be OK?

      Good luck with the “looking in the eye” advice – I didn’t mention that I’m lousy at following it. It’s like the other counselling tidbit that has you sit facing each other, knees touching, holding hands. Nope, not happening. My knees are carrying me around the house and my hands are flailing or slamming doors.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ve never connected with too many people on Facebook. I also never really changed my introvert nature. I don’t argue, because the people I would argue with never show any behavior that tells me they listen. The problem with debating in social media is that if you make a point with someone, they can easily find 20 people that agree with them.I try to send some subtle messages in my writing, but even there, I’ve gotten some push-back.


  15. I’ve been reading more poetry these days. It’s so much more comforting than social media these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What?? Trump is still president?? That’s it — I’m going back to being offline!!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I deleted my FB account years ago and have never looked back. What I’ve discovered is that anyone who cares about me, regardless of partisanship, will find me online via my blog. And anyone on FB who was a “friend” and has not connected with me, is not a friend.

    Listening to what people tell me about FB now, I realize that the fear of being alone + the need to be right has turned it into a crazy place. I say, walk away from it and know that when you speak up the people who hear you will care about what you have to say. Why get involved in a social medium that doesn’t have your best interest at heart? Makes no sense to me.


    • Hi Ally – I appreciate your comments, and must confess to feeling some envy.

      Since I am the social media coordinator for several groups, I’m obliged to visit the site regularly to post content and to respond to queries. Those jobs are enjoyable.

      Because of my mineral collecting hobby, I have hundreds of direct contacts, and of course, through them, countless others. But the circle of close friends and family is a dozen or so.

      All this to say, if I could, I’d set my account to private and have only the people in my inner circle as my contacts.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Pencil me in as yet another wallflower – I prefer to listen and observe, rather than inject myself into conversations…both ‘in the flesh’ and electronic. And I’m happy to be this introverted. I came to terms with that aspect of my personality a long time ago.

    I was raised to avoid two subjects at any social gathering: Religion & Politics. Both these lofty subjects bring out the worst in people when they’re interacting in person with one another. The anonymity of social medias has multiplied this tenfold…at least.

    When people are freed from empathetic feedback when communicating electronically, it magnifies the vitriol. Like it or not, every human has some degree of empathy…It’s how we’re wired to form all of our social bonds. Without that subtle feedback, the darker portions of our psyches surge forth.

    I may read some of the hatred out there on the book of faces, but once I start squirming in my chair at the venom, I simply stop reading. I don’t have to let the hostility in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Love how you expressed this – the magnified vitriol and the darker bits surging forth.

      I also can related to not letting in the venom. Point, click, surf away. Not only with FB but with movies and other sorts of “entertainment”. I don’t watch horror, I don’t even like suspenseful drama, or war stories. The same social worker friend that I quote in my post here also suggested that we limit our exposure to negative stuff like this. We experience it at some level of our psyche. It’s damaging.

      It surprises me, but it doesn’t, that you are an introvert. The same for several other people in my gang of followers here. We are an eloquent, lively bunch, on paper, at the very least!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I have used FB less and less in the course of the last four months. I, too, am shocked by the number of friends I have who use hateful words and name-calling at others. Although, not me, not yet…but I feel like when I agree with those who don’t agree with them, I’m being name-called as well, so it may as well be me. Sadly, I have lowered my opinion of many people.
    I have a bad temper, which I control at the cost of bite marks on my tongue, but name-calling never suits my needs. I’m better at staying silent and if needed, I can always count on sarcasm.
    I’ve always been politically minded. It’s not hard for me to see a contrary opinion or even to listen to the why of it, but I have no desire to be involved in ruthless word-battle with people so full of anger, fear, and hatred. I hide many of them, and go check them out here and there, like the likable things.


    • Hey Joey – well, you know my story about flying under the radar on social media. Like you, so far, I’ve been witness only to other people being skewered. This is for holding the same opinions as I do. So, if I do the math…

      What blows my mind is the sanctimonious scolding. How did these people learn how to do that? What sort of upbringing did they have? How do they see it as their job to set other people straight? Are they THAT fearful for their own futures?


      If this sounds a little hysterical, blame it on the chardonnay. It’s happy hour here in Cobalt.

      Liked by 2 people

  20. Maggie, I love your post. It is interesting to mix with those artificial artsy groups from time to time and come home and wish it all away! I haven’t really learnt the ins and outs of Facebook and feel I’m only on the perimeter. You are obviously in contact with a much wider circle of people and that can be scary. The mention of carrying guns scares the hell out of me!! Peace and joy to you with a large chardonnay to follow! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Barbara – There are definitely days when I wish I was back on the perimeter. I am planning to scale back some of my obligations, especially for those groups that are not in my immediate geographical area. That will at least reduce the volume of material I must comb through.
      I like your last line! Cheers, dear. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  21. I enjoyed this post so much! I feel like I am an introvert who has evolved over time into someone who has the confidence, at 58, to finally speak her mind. It feels good after being a smiling, head nodding, afraid to say what I really think in case they don’t like it person for most of my life. When I am talking issues with people who are at the other end of the political spectrum, I do not get personal or move into attack mode or disrespect them. I have not unfriended anyone. I do from time to time turn off notifications from people who post things that upset me, and I have encouraged all my FB friends to do the same to me if my posts are a problem for them. That way they can choose to look me up and see what I am up to–or not. I have some warm relationships with people whose politics make me wonder what they are thinking sometimes, but in the great big scheme of things I think we all need to communicate more rather than less. Of course, if I had someone who simply could not engage without being angry and disrespectful I would probably have to unfriend them, but I am glad that has not been the case for me.

    I think you are probably right that if some of the angry folks on social media were sitting down at the cafe together, the discourse would be a lot more amiable and some common ground could be found, at least I would like to think so.

    Liked by 1 person

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s