You are going to think I’m crazy, but I swear it’s true—I have witnessed rational discussions about controversial topics on Facebook. Ain’t lying. It’s for real.
One of the first times I encountered such a unicorn was in a down-thread side discussion between a vegan and a cattle rancher.
The two people exchanged ideas respectfully throughout their discussion, saying things like, “I think you are wrong about that, but you have a point about this other thing,” and “I disagree with you there, but you’ve given me something to consider here.” In the end, neither changed their minds, but both thanked the other for sharing their viewpoint in an articulate matter, thus clarifying some previously baffling concepts, and agreed to disagree. It was amazing.
Other things I’ve seen good discussions about: Black Lives Matter, gun control, various religious concepts, deer hunting, and American Dirt.
Things I’ve seen people get really shitty about: whether or when to euthanize a suffering animal, gas taxes, pet acquisition, pronouns. Political candidates, naturally.
You don’t have to guess which threads I read and which I roll my eyes at and scroll on by—and it has nothing to do with topic.
But what really discourages me is—the phrase “unfriend me now if…” I could happily live the rest of my life without hearing that phase ever again.
Please, friends, feel free to disagree with me. I don’t even agree with myself all the time, so why would I think you, any of you, would agree with me on everything? We can even stay friends if we disagree on some deeply important topics. And if you are a truly reprehensible person, I don’t need you to self-identify. It’s probably evident.
Not everyone wants controversy on their Facebook page or Twitter feed. I get it. I rarely post controversial themes myself. But this idea that disagreement should lead to termination of a friendship seems intellectually dishonest to me. It smacks of black and white thinking, a fierce conviction that one’s experience and knowledge base is the only one that counts.
The thing is, most of us know that’s not true. Most of us have changed our minds about something, at some time in our lives. Maybe the catalyst was personal experience, or maybe we gathered new information that required us to re-evaluate what we thought we knew.
We need to listen to each other—on social media as well as in real life. It’s not good enough to demonize those who disagree with us, to accuse and name call, to reduce real people to caricatures, to “unfriend.” If we disagree to the point where we can no longer talk, what is there left to do?