My good friend Bob Eaton says he is removing a few Facebook friends because they continue to bombard him with their political histrionics. I know exactly how he feels. I usually clean them out on a regular basis. Yes, I actually unfriend them. My friends tell me to simply unfollow them, and remain friends. But I figure, if I decided they weren’t my friend in real life, why would I let them keep that label on Facebook?
Let’s pretend that there is no Facebook. Let’s say you had a friend that you really enjoyed seeing. One of those people who light up your life. One of those friends who, when they walk in the room, simply make your day better. And then, they get politics in the same way that others get religion. They seem to think it’s their duty to proselytize and persuade you to their way of political thinking every time they see you. So, sooner or later, you begin to avoid them. If they walk in the room, you think to yourself “Oh man, it’s Jerry again.” You manage to say hello and escape. You go home, and tell your wife or husband that you “managed to avoid Jerry.” (if anybody out there is named Jerry, this is not about you.)
In defense of Bob Eaton and me, stop doing this. It’s really a non-partisan issue. I realize we are in the middle of a highly divided political era. You may feel this way or that way, I don’t care. But I can promise you that if you feel the need to spout endless political diatribe, you are becoming one of those people who are to be avoided. Seriously.
Now let’s be partisan for a moment. I have close friends who are politically aligned with me. We love nothing better than to talk privately among ourselves, patting each other on the back and reassuring ourselves that we’re right. Far right, in my case. Private agreement with one’s opinion is one thing. Projectile-vomiting it on the rest of the world is another thing altogether. In generations past, the rule for proper manners was “Don’t discuss politics or religion.” We ought to pull that one out of the mothballs and have another good long look at it.
When I was in middle and high school, we had a thing called a Slam Book. It was a simple, spiral-bound book. We each had a page with our name written at the top. As the book was passed from student to student over a month or so, everyone wrote their opinion of us–right there on our page. And of course, the book eventually made its way back into our hands. Sometimes they wrote nice things. Nobody under 60 is likely to remember Slam Books. No one over 60 wants to.
Social media has become the Slam Book of the Millennium. Some of us feel unrestrained to spout opinion, much of it harmful, to anyone in the world. Some of it is directed at individuals in a malicious manner and some of it is simply thrown out there with no regard and apparently, no concern. Thinking about that reminds me of another baby thrown out with the bathwater: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” And that reminds me of Elvis: Don’t be cruel.
Maybe our current, incredibly divided political troubles exist because we, as a society, broadcast our opinions to the world before we think about them. We ought to be careful; those opinions are probably going into outer space and we’ll never get them back. And here’s another thought: How well-regarded is our opinion anyway? Do we expect to change the world with it? I don’t know about you. But in 67 years, I don’t think my political opinion has ever changed anyone else’s mind. Not once. That’s sad, but it keeps things in perspective.
I’d rather make people laugh once in a while. And I’m keeping Bob Eaton as my Facebook friend