The Trouble with Facebook

My husband and I are raising a digital native. It’s been said, and rightly so, that ours is the first generation of parents that will have to impress upon its children the critical nature of what they put online: that it doesn’t go away, it can be dangerous, and privacy is often only perceived rather than real.

Social media has become an integral part of our lives, and as such, it’s taken some criticism. Concern grows that our young people aren’t forging real relationships, and that we all – young and old alike – are putting forth the persona we want people to see rather than living in real and true connection with others…connection where we see one another’s flaws, work through conflict, and thereby forge true relationships.

I don’t want to weigh in on all of this, necessarily. I don’t think I can add much to that particular debate beyond what’s already there. I have, however, been thinking a bit about social media as it pertains to the ease of drawing people into and pushing people out of our lives. I’ve been thinking about this for the last couple of years, and a friend that I treasure recently wrote this post, which inspired me to finally get this down. “Friending” and “unfriending” is easy. That’s by design. Social media is meant to foster connection and help us draw our network into a world where we can share things that even ten years ago would have taken, at best, a blast email, and at most, a phone call to each person we might have wanted to share with. We can share wider, connect easier, and this is a good thing. I know a man who works for an organization in Haiti, and uses social media daily to connect with people all over the world. And they solve problems. Quickly. Passionately. Well.

But my problem with Facebook and other social media is my problem with our current American society.

We’ve demonized dissent.

We’ve ostracized opposition.

We’ve shut out and shut off anyone who doesn’t agree with us.

This is a problem. Because the way we do this doesn’t build bridges. It reveals a remarkable and societally systemic lack of maturity.

I’ve been called stupid, a fool, and ridiculous. It’s been said I live in a fantasy world because of the faith I hold to. I’ve been called a “conservative bigot”, a person with low IQ, someone who has no mind of her own, and it generally happens when people combine labels inappropriately. (This was perfectly captured in my friend’s post.) Conservative and bigot is a good example. One does not equal the other. This has all come across my Facebook feed. And you know what? I’m okay with this. Why? Well, none was directed at me specifically. I choose to believe that most of the people who have posted such things, if drawn into a true dialogue, would not say these things to me; I imagine they weren’t thinking of me as an individual when they posted. If they would say these things to me even after learning why I think what I think, I’d hope we could agree to disagree. It’s not about winning people over to agreement. It’s about understanding that for many, what we believe is indeed actually informed by research, intellect, and yes, sometimes faith. It’s about seeing that the things we hold to, whether a belief system, a political view, or the way we eat, aren’t without thought. It’s also about seeing that faith and belief systems do not equal what we sometimes think they do. Disagreement does not equal hatred. Expressing disagreement does not equal hatred. And, conversely, loving does not mean we have to agree.

Some of my friends don’t agree with me. Many of my friends don’t agree with me. About a lot of things. And here’s the deal, folks: I can disagree with you…I can even VOICE my disagreement with you…and still love you. I can disagree with your choices, the way you live your life, what you put in your body, the company you keep…and you may know that I disagree…and it doesn’t take away EITHER of our humanity or value. I can still love you, still appreciate your heart, still laugh with you, and still enjoy your company. My friendship with you, my relationship with you, your value to me…these aren’t dependent on us agreeing on the way we see the world. They just aren’t. And sure, my closest confidants are those who think in a similar way. But if I surround myself with only those, my life is sorely lacking in richness, perspective, and learning. How can I ever know the heart of another if I’m unwilling to hear it?   

Yes. Being in a category of, as one example, “conservative bigots”, stings for a moment. But I breathe deeply, consider the perspective of the writer and the wider content of their character, embrace the things about them that I appreciate, and move on. They are still my friends. And if I’m comfortable in my own skin, what weight does their opinion truly hold in that particular area anyway? I know that I’m no bigot. So, does it really matter if I’m categorized this way? One look at my family and that becomes almost laughable. And yes, you can call me that and I probably won’t unfriend you. Because, quite likely, your other posts make me smile, make me laugh, and sometimes make me want to reach out and hug you. The areas where we disagree are just that: areas where we disagree. I’m sure there are things I post that others don’t agree with. And the same goes. If I have no value to you, then by all means, shut me off, shut me out. I sadly surmise that if our relationship could so easily be defined by a difference of opinion about one thing, then it likely wasn’t real to begin with.

So this brings me to my final point, and one that’s much more consistent with the general content of my blog. What are we teaching our kids about how to view those who disagree with us? Equally important, what are we teaching our kids about how to do the disagreeing? Are we teaching them that a sting is worth throwing people away? Or are we teaching them to dialogue, consider perspectives, deepen relationships, and even sacrifice our own preferences to minister to another person when it’s appropriate? We can take a perspective, take a stand, and still build bridges. It IS possible.

I hope we’re teaching our kids that while we don’t agree, we still love. We still walk alongside. We still help where we can, and where it’s appropriate.  Because we all have value.

Silly…even the Lego cartoon we watched with my son today got right what so many of us in American society don’t: “we give* to all, even to those we disagree with”. No wonder we’re so polarized. This…this is my problem with Facebook. It’s not Facebook’s fault…it’s simply one more platform we use to avoid really working through challenges.

*this does NOT mean we finance or in any other way condone destructive behavior. 

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