A few weeks ago, shortly after Election Night, one of my Facebook connections--someone I went to college with but wasn't particularly close to--put a lengthy post on her wall. It was essentially a thank you letter to Mitt Romney for running, but took tangents on racism and the American Dream and her own personal struggle. It ended with, "I guess it's time to sit back and watch the demise of our country now."
While I disagreed with many of her points regarding what Romney would have done for the country, I wouldn't have given the post a second thought--or probably even read the entire thing--except that it had over 30 comments by the time I saw it in my news feed.
One person's dissenting comment quickly turned into an all-out war. The conversation devolved into a mud-slinging virtual cesspool, with commenters on both sides of the political spectrum saying some pretty asinine things--although I agreed with the majority of the leftward-leaning statements even if I didn't always agree with how they were presented. (OK, I'll be honest, at the time I mostly agreed with how they were presented and cheered at the snarkiness).
The person whose original post spurred all this on stayed in the ring, writing long diatribes blasting back at those who disagreed with her. She tried to write off most of those who opposed her with statements along the lines of, "Well, you are still a student, come back when you've paid taxes. You'll change your mind" (ignoring, of course, those that had jobs, paid taxes and still opposed her views).
At one point, after several comments mixing church and state, a commenter dropped in to say, "God isn't real," and things got really nasty. The more religious-minded folks went on a personal attack against him. Later that same person defended his post, explaining he is an atheist and has just as much right to express his belief as those posting things such as "God is in everything and has everything to do with everything. God is not President; God is King." I had to choke back a bitter laugh when I got to the part where one commenter made a long point about his personal Christianity only a few minutes before writing a racial slur directed at another commenter--super Christian, bro.
In fact, as I read the chain of comments I wanted to jump in more than once. I wanted to give my two cents, refute an idiot statement or just plain write something dripping (so to speak) with sarcasm and disdain addressing the absurdities I was reading.
There actually were many well-reasoned, respectful comments as well, but they were largely lost in the outpouring of vitriol.
Throughout the war of words, which reached 127 comments before it was all said and done, commenters brought up their own personal experiences: gay, straight, mixed-race, child of immigrants, atheist, rich, poor. They were students, teachers, bankers, writers and more. Racism, education disparity, the job market, religion, class warfare, white privilege, free speech, fiscal responsibility and, believe it or not, sorority history were all dragged in to be discussed.
And when I finally read through it all once again, I couldn't help but think, how did this happen? For several reasons--how is it that the most uninformed of us often feel the need to speak the loudest? How can people be so uninformed in the first place? And especially, how do people think Facebook is the appropriate place to express such hatred toward others that they have never even met, all in the name of being "right"?
Like it or not, we live in a society now where it's becoming harder and harder for people of opposite beliefs to coexist peacefully, particularly in the somewhat distanced atmosphere of social media. In Mississippi we suffer from this perhaps more than other areas of the country, simply because our political beliefs can be so drastically different.
I'll be honest, I unfriended several people on social media this campaign cycle, as I seem to do every year but particularly during presidential campaigns. Some of them were mere acquaintances from one encounter or another, but a couple of them were people I considered real friends at one point in my life, before eventually losing touch. But when they popped up in my minifeed writing some truly misinformed statements, I didn't hesitate to hit unfriend.
My maternal grandparents were of differing political beliefs. My mom tells me that every time Election Day rolled around, my grandmother would come home from voting and joke that she just canceled out all my grandfather's votes. And then they would continue on with their lives and their marriage.
I struggle to imagine the same situation occurring now in much frequency. I personally can't imagine what my marriage would be like if my husband and I shared drastically differing views on issues such as reproductive and contraceptive rights, gay rights, social services, health care, etc. I can't imagine what it would be like if we voted for different candidates.
Some people might say that now, a month after the American people took to the polls and re-elected Barack Obama, that the nastiness of the campaign is over, and we can get back to our lives. But it's not over. Not when people are calling to secede from the country, or move to Canada or New Zealand (ironically, both countries with more progressive governments than ours) and not when this fight on Facebook still rings in my head, so many days after I read it for the first time.
I don't have a personal vendetta against Republicans. I have Republican friends and I respect that they have their beliefs, even if I don't agree with them. And yes, I can't help but allow someone's political beliefs to color my opinion of him or her, just a little. I would guess that most people, if they are honest, would say the same. But I try to consider any of my friends' opinions or beliefs carefully before writing them off.
I do, however, have a serious issue with people shouting their opinions, whether in real life or on the Internet, without being informed. I have an issue with all the blind hatred supposedly educated, reasoned and/or religious people are spewing.
During the campaign, there was a lot of talk of "reaching across the aisle" and bipartisanship. But how can we expect our leaders to do those necessary things when we aren't even willing to hear the opinions of our neighbors and our classmates? How can we hold our political leaders accountable when most of us don't care enough to find out the truth about the decisions they are making?
Be informed. Get out there, read the news. Listen to public radio. Listen to someone who thinks differently than you. More important, be willing to accept the fact that you aren't completely informed. Because, let's face it, these are complicated issues and there are very few people in the country that can know every aspect and side of a matter.
Let's all step away from the keyboard when things get nasty and breathe. Think and consider.