How Facebook can be a bridge and not a river
I have an interesting Facebook news feed. It includes Americans and those who make other nations their home. I have friends on Facebook who are super patriotic Americans and friends who are citizens of countries that many here would consider to be “enemies” of the US. I have friends who are Republicans and Democrats. I have friends who are political activists within liberal/progressive movements as well as within more conservative/libertarian movements. I get the sense that I am an anomaly. I often wonder how Facebook decides what shows up in my news feed? Today when I was scrolling through I saw quite a variety of things. There is the typical happy stories — a family adopting a dog. There was the daily pun and jokes I enjoy. There’s the inspirational quotes that are great. There is the daily prayer. There were updates on sick family members, requests for prayers for others. There were obituaries of both young and old. And there was politics.
The amazing thing about the political posts on Facebook is that one post was critical of the Woman’s march and the very next one was in support of it. Then I scrolled a bit further and the very same thing happened. One post critical and the next was supportive. This happened over and over again. I was fascinated by this observation and couldn’t help but wonder about it. You may also be wondering, how can someone have such a diverse range of friendships. I can’t imagine how people couldn’t. Then again, given how divided we are as a nation here in the US, I’m not surprised. I wonder if our attachment to our political parties and ideologies limits who becomes our friends. Do people practice political self-segregation?
When it comes to the Women’s march, I’ve heard quite a variety of arguments, one-liners, guilt and shame-inducement statements, and personal stories (from both supporters and opponents). I’ve heard about abortion and many other “issues.” Some people are very eloquent and others are, shall we say, a bit rougher in their language. But this is just the latest installment of my cross-cultural and cross-belief Facebook news feed. All throughout the 2016 election I watched the election play out in my news feed — those for this candidate and those for that candidate. And a smaller segment who were for no candidate too.
Every time some divisive issue pops up, I can count on hearing both sides of the argument just by watching my Facebook news feed. I’m guaranteed to be able to read articles and see quotes supporting both liberal and conservative viewpoints from a variety of sources — and I read many of these — not just the ones I know I will agree with. Because what’s the point of that? What did I actually learn from that? Nothing.
I love this and I hate it at the same time. I love the fact that there is such a diverse range of opinion on any given subject all at my fingertips. There is creativity with proposed ideas. There are serious criticisms. There are great arguments for and against positions. And of course there are insults — I see the range of responses from rational argument to emotional tantrum.
But I also hate the news feed. I hate it because I know the people who comment. I hate it because I know that these people don’t know the other people who comment on the same issue but from an opposing viewpoint. I hate that these people appear physically close in my news feed, yet don’t even know that the other person exists in reality.
I feel like a bridge over a river that never gets crossed. I grow richer from a diversity of opinions, ideas, presentations, and arguments, while people on either side of the river are locked in echo chambers only getting feedback from like-minded people.
I hate it because I know in the grand scheme of things, this type of behavior only contributes to the divide we have in our country and in the world.
I hate it because I don’t know how to bridge the two lands separated by a river. I don’t even know that the two lands want to meet each other — it seems as though they would rather just yell at each other. It gives each side the ability to feel justified, self-righteous, right, angry, etc. But it doesn’t bring us closer to truth. It doesn’t bring us closer to unity. It doesn’t bring us closer to understanding. It doesn’t bring us closer to reconciliation. It doesn’t bring us closer to advancing our nation economically, culturally, spiritually, or in any other way for that matter.
Here’s my challenge to you — make a friend with someone you know you disagree with. Read all of their Facebook posts, and just listen. Don’t respond, don’t argue. You aren’t going to convince someone on Facebook anyway so don’t waste your time or their time.
The point isn’t who is right. The point is to see that other people come to very different conclusions for what are good reasons when it comes down to it. They don’t have to make sense to you. People come to their conclusions and hold their beliefs because of things in their past, their culture, their education, their parents and friends, their religious faith, and things they observe and experience. Many times people can’t even express why they believe what they believe, but they know what they believe. Putting words to things that have happened to a person can be difficult sometimes.
Here’s another challenge — ask questions. Not leading questions. Not questions that are actually attacks. But real questions meant to gain understanding. Approach people who believe differently as an opportunity to learn. I’m willing to bet that most people, when it comes down to it, want the same ultimate thing that you do. I’m willing to bet that there is a difference in how to get there. If we can agree to the ultimate goal, then can we let go of our attachment to the how? Can we stop confusing the how with the endgame?
In the meantime, I’ll keep reading my Facebook news feed each day. I’ll keep holding people in prayer. I’ll keep having conversations with people who I disagree with in respectful ways and seeking understanding. I won’t always succeed in this. Sometimes I’ll fail miserably at this. But there’s always tomorrow to start over. There are more people to engage with.
There a great deal of cultural change that I feel needs to take place here and in other parts of the world — a foundation of trust to be built between people, forgiveness offered and accepted, mercy shown, peace sought as a way of life and not an end point, respect in interactions from all parties.
And you know what, if I wait for someone else to take the first step, it ain’t gonna happen. I’ll just see the same news feeds.
I want my news feed to change! Not through the magic of manipulating it. No I want a more organic change — a change because the people posting have changed. I love the diversity, and at the same time, I want to see more interaction, more respect, more trust, more forgiveness, more consideration of opposing viewpoints.
I’m only one person. I wonder, will you join me? I’m taking a step, will you step with me? Or is there just too much at stake for you? I’ll know your answer by my news feed. And I’ll still love you and care about you and listen to you and pray for you. For me it starts with prayer — it’s difficult to rip another person a new one when you pray for them. Prayer changes how I interact with people. How are you going to start?
Originally published at laceduplutheran.com on January 25, 2017.