I’ve always loved Facebook. I love being in touch with people I haven’t seen in years. I love reading news from places far and wide. I love deep discussions on religion and politics, on feminism and the environment, on human rights and culture differences. I love that people can rally around a cause and mobilize to help someone in need. I love that we can make people feel better with a witty post or meme. I love that I can see pictures of my sisters’ kids. And I love that we can do good for so many.
But lately, I hate Facebook
Lately, Facebook is this:
“Go back to where you came from!”
“I thought you were a rational person, why would you ask something like that?”
“It’s January 20th baby! Go cry in your safe space liberals… here’s a Teddy Bear to cuddle!”
“You support Trump? So, basically, you’re a card-carrying racist.”
I’m not just talking about politics, though admittedly, that is where most of the vitriol is focused. And I’m not talking about trolls; there have always been trolls — the internet was born for trolls. I’m talking about people who used to engage in normal, rational discourse, but have somehow replaced conversation, understanding and communication with judgement, generalizations, and personal smackdowns.
There’s a rush to judgement in the air. The memes, the one-liners, the generalizations that tar and feather all members of any group. They’re par for the course. In our best moments, we might try to understand others’ views or perhaps question what we are hearing; at our worst, we call people who don’t see things our way “morons”.
Anyway, it’s gotten to me.
Perhaps I’m too sensitive, but I’ve pretty much stopped asking open-ended questions and posting random thoughts. I can’t stand this either/or culture, where one who strives to be both faithful to an ideal and question some of its manifestations is scoffed at. I’ve lost faith in the art of dialogue — or at least in the ability of most people to civilly engage.
* * *
Recently, I had concerns about Trump’s inauguration speech. I wanted to post them but was afraid to do. So, I posted just that.
In response, a number of people offered to chat via private message. Agreeing to be respectful, about 15 of us from the UK, Israel and US participated in a group chat. It was so successful that people asked me to create a Facebook group with the same “be a mentsch” premise. I did.
I was asked if I got what wanted out of the chat. The answer is yes, and I’d like to share it with you.
First and foremost, the ability to have calm and rational conversations about such divisive topics is important. The ability to hear people’s concerns and opinions without angry accusatory language and snide remarks is vital if we are going to improve any of the situations that need fixing.
For example, if you are going to accuse anyone who didn’t vote for the candidate of your choice of being racist or a “libtard,” odds are that the discussion will be fruitless. It is okay to criticize a candidate’s policies; it is not okay to call him or her a racist or a crook as a matter of course.
So, while anyone — including me — can hate any one of Obama’s many policies and enactments (and I certainly hate some), I cannot in any rational way call him an anti-Semite. Nor can I take seriously anyone who throws around that label. Similarly, if you call Hillary Clinton, “Killary,” it simply removes you from my list of human beings with whom I can have rational discourse.
We must be able to speak about the issues and not the individuals on a personal level — of whom we speak and to whom we speak. “I cannot wait for your generation to die,” isn’t a discussion point and won’t get anyone to hear you.
You may say, “But it’s the very person of Trump who is the problem.” I hear. Believe me. I have made this argument many times. But, at this point, he is the president; if we only talk about his past words and actions, we will (and I know this from personal experience) be dismissed as crybabies. So, focus on the issues and why they are problematic. Whether your interest is climate change or education, get people hear your concerns.
The experience also brought home the very simple, but oft forgotten fact that our perspectives are not the same as everyone else’s. People see things differently, for many reasons, and if we want to understand other viewpoints and learn from them, we must grant people the right to have different approaches and experiences.
I’ve discovered that one person’s open mind is another person’s inability to separate right from wrong. One person’s quest for human rights is another person’s denial of them. One person’s security precautions is another person’s Islamophobia.
At the same time, there are some truths which we must all acknowledge. Evil is evil and cannot be justified- hate and terror are not ‘freedom of speech’ or ‘freedom of religion’ we do not give freedom to those who do not honor it.
And while we cannot allow for racism in the guise of personal concerns, we also cannot dismiss a person’s genuine concerns by calling them a racist. This will get us nowhere but further division.
Third. People are complex creatures each with their own priorities and considerations. Not every Trump voter is racist/misogynist/ignorant (in fact the majority are NOT). Most people who voted for Trump did so for a variety of reasons, be it jobs, security, foreign policy or another issue important to them, though yes, his misogyny and boorishness was not enough to dissuade them from doing so.
At the same time, very few of us who are worried about Trump and his administration are ‘libtards’ (what an offensive word), feminazis, anti-Israel, or communists. We are people who cannot believe that the highest office in the country has gone to someone who expressed such crass views, denies science, and ran on a platform which sowed deep division. I for one genuinely fear what this man and those he appoints, will do to the country — and world — that I love.
But he won, and we’re all in this together. So, now what?
I want us to return to animated discourse where people hear one another and put away the labels.
I want us to stop picking on each other in attempts to strike blows.
I want everyone — yes, everyone — to recognize that it is rare that WE are completely right and THEY completely wrong. And moreover, that being wrong does not equal being bad.
Overall, I want us to work a little harder at being thinking human beings. Because I miss my Facebook, which is really a reflection of the world at large – where we can talk to a lot of different people about a lot of different things and all walk away knowing a little bit more, and being a little bit better than we were before.