I came across a post in my Facebook news feed this morning in which a woman had posted a public message to someone on my friends list (well, public to those people on the receiver’s friends list, at least) telling the receiver that she, the poster, didn’t want to see any more political talk and that she would turn off notifications from the receiver until after the election if it continued. She ended the post with a kissy face emoji, though, so I suppose that makes it OK.
My knee jerk reaction was to be the asshole that I am and comment that I, for one, would NOT turn off notifications because she, the receiver, was a grown-up and as a grown-up had a right to post whatever the hell she wanted to her own social media timeline and that the rest of us, as grown-ups, could act as such and engage in thoughtful discussions about the topics at hand or unfollow without any threats or pomp and circumstance if we didn’t like it.
Thankfully, I came to my senses (and also ran out of time before I had to leave for work) and said nothing, scrolling on by like the grown-up I’m supposed to be.
But here’s the thing. In this constantly evolving digital age — an age in which we no longer get our information exclusively from professional journalists but rather from everyday people as well and in which we each have the power to discuss important issues and influence one another with the click of a button — choosing NOT to discuss politics on social media is everyone’s right, but demanding that others do the same because it makes us more comfortable is not.
And, while this may be an unpopular opinion, I’m going to say it anyway: Demanding that others refrain from discussing politics on social media as well as threatening to unfollow them if they do makes YOU a part of the undeniably growing problem in this country.
Harsh? Probably. But the truth is, squandering opportunities to speak out against injustice and learning from others with differing viewpoints, or worse, refusing to engage in these conversations ourselves because to do so protects our fragile psyches from discomfort, is civically irresponsible. Like it or not, the 21st century is a whole different ballgame when it comes to the dissemination, consumption, and discussion of national and global news, and no one — NO ONE — has the right to require others to halt dialogue about critical, life-changing current events because it makes us a little angry to see it or because it differs from our own perceptions of reality.
I don’t always agree with the political viewpoints of those with whom I’m friends or those whom I follow on social media. In fact, on more than one occasion I’ve found myself looking down my nose at people whose views differ from my own. But one thing I haven’t done is go on a massive, entitled, threaten-to-unfriend campaign simply because we disagree.
Instead, I’ve chosen to watch closely. To listen. To even insert myself in the conversation once in a while, sometimes to see if I can learn anything, other times to see if I can persuade someone to see things from a different perspective, and still other times just to poke the bear (hey, I never said I was perfect). I’ve chosen to do these things because hiding from the issues at hand serves no purpose other than to shield myself from the realities of the country and world in which I live.
To hide from the issues at hand is to turn the other cheek. To refuse to hear what people whose views I oppose have to say — even when listening makes me want to throw up in my mouth 20 times over — is to actively and consciously choose to not be a participant in a system people risked and lost their lives for the right to take part in. It is to deny myself the opportunity to maybe learn a thing or two. It is to be indifferent. Apathetic. Downright lazy.
Perhaps most importantly, it is to slink into cowardice by not speaking out against that which I find economically, socially, and morally dangerous or even reprehensible.
Choosing to ignore politics is one thing. Is it a responsible choice? No. I don’t think it is. But it’s certainly a liberty granted to any American. But don’t you dare require the same of everyone else.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I’m willing to bet he’d agree that the same holds true when we bully others into silence as well.