Sometimes I see something on my Facebook page and think “How is it possible that you are my friend?” How could someone in my social and family circle say something, or repost something, that is so diametrically opposed to my own way of thinking? Occasionally, I see something that is intolerant of minorities, or that rages against immigrants, or has an undercurrent of racism (or homophobia, or sexism, or ageism) and I don’t know what to do about it.
I could de-friend that person, but I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I could post a disapproving or cautionary comment, but that might start a nasty online argument. I could ask Facebook to hide similar comments, but they are not very good at guessing which things I don’t want to see. So, mostly I just fume a little bit and let it go.
One of the reasons I let it go, I tell myself, is that I don’t want to exist in an echo chamber. I don’t want to be surrounded only by people who agree with me. As comforting and reassuring as that is, it does not help me to fine-tune my arguments or to flesh out my opinions. It also does not help me when I step outside of my comfort zone into the wider world.
Recently, I was at a meetup group event, learning how to use my new camera. We had a very informative and friendly evening, and I learned a lot. Before we left, we stood around chatting and it turned out that one person there was a very outspoken bigot. A racist, really. He was strongly opposed to immigration even though everyone he was talking to was either an immigrant or the child of immigrants. I don’t think that dawned on him.
He seemed to assume that we were all in agreement with him when in fact we were being politely Canadian and just letting him rant. I excused myself and left, partly because I didn’t quite know how to stop him being objectionable and partly because I desperately needed to pee. Afterwards, though, I regretted that I had not challenged his perceptions.
Similarly, a family member recently posted something to Facebook that asked me to “like” and “share” an article praising the restrictive immigration policies of some unnamed Muslim country. The idea was that if ‘they’ won’t accept us, why should ‘we’ accept them? I could see nothing to like about this hostile diatribe so I just deleted it. I wanted to say something, but it’s not worth arguing about on a social networking site. When I weigh family relationships against abstract political arguments, family always wins.
The dilemma I am faced with is one that most of us face: how to effectively challenge the statements of friends and family without causing a rift. I wonder if talk show hosts and politicians ever practice their political arguments on the people closest to them or if they go along just to get along. I expect they go home to an echo chamber, surrounded by people who agree with them, just as I do.
In the end, though, it is the people who say startlingly divergent things that get me thinking the most. I have a “Wait…What?” moment before it dawns on me that there is life outside my bubble, and it doesn’t always agree with me. Clearly, some people need my guidance. I will have to work on giving it to them.