When I grew up, the old rule of polite social engagement was to avoid two topics: politics and religion, especially when traveling abroad. It’s hard enough overcoming the ugly American syndrome, especially if you don’t know what’s sensitive locally. Your motive may be to learn something, but there may be social and political barriers that make it uncomfortable for people to share that information. For example, it may not be wise to ask a Syrian to describe the struggles of living under the Asad government while getting in a taxi in Damascus. And in some places in America, it’s still not polite to talk about Sherman or the civil war while south of the Mason-Dixon line.
But after a short while, it’s easy to exhaust topics of weather, sports, home improvement, fashion, TV or whatever else is dominating pop culture. So whether you’re traveling or at home, people desire to catch the flavor of something more substantive. And let’s face it, politics and religion affect us all and each of us expends some time thinking about it sooner or later. And social media seems to have relegated the old rule to the dark ages of what I call B.I. (Before Internet).
FB and Twitter have become people’s favorite platform to share someone else’s content or their own views. I think it’s okay to do that and I’ve liked or shared information that I thought was well written and supported my own emotions and thoughts on these former taboo topics. And I’ve commented on others’ posts as well. And it’s in the commenting that I think I’ve noticed a distinct trend.
I noticed the majority of people sharing someone else’s or their own original content aren’t really interested in eliciting opinion other than the one offered. In other words, the comments are usually in the form of a lot of other people agreeing with the person posting the opinion. Or the comments pile on additional statistics taken from TV, radio and blog talking points that support the post. If anyone posts an opposite view, that person is usually heckled, called names and generally told to “get lost”. Often the friend who posted the original topic doesn’t even edit out sharp criticisms from themselves or other commenters. Why is that? Isn’t social media about being “social”? Apparently not. And what about being “tolerant”? Forget that too.
So why is that? If you post an opinion, do you want to elicit opposite views and generate a civil discussion? What’s your motive?
I believe most people who post on politics and religion want assurance that others think the same thing they do. They are not interested in changing their minds about these topics. Nor are they interested in or appreciate others’ opinions, especially if they contradict their own. Offering an opposite opinion doesn’t provide the positive strokes that the poster is looking for.
When sharing content, I’ve decided my motive will be to include why someone’s content was interesting to me or how I feel about it. Your friend list should be a safe enough place to do that. And if someone wants to respectfully disagree while providing their feelings or personal experience on the topic, I’d like to hear that and to seek to understand them. I may never agree with their conclusions, but I can attempt to respectfully hear them and listen to how they feel. And hopefully, even though I and my friend may not share the same view, we can both respect each other enough to care about each other as people and seek first to understand rather than be understood.
Recently I read a blog about how to improve your Twitter RT’s (re-Tweets) and FB Shares. The advice was to avoid simply re-Tweeting or Sharing without adding your own knowledge to the post. The direction was to enrich it with your own thoughts and feelings. So like Wiki, the original post becomes richer with each add. And that can work whether or not the poster or the commenter agrees with the shared content. And in my opinion like other polite conversation, folks should police themselves with some basic etiquette and avoid sharp criticism and personal attacks.
What’s interesting is that derogatory comments seem to be more prevalent when people have some sense of anonymity behind a keyboard. Sharp words would likely not be spoken out loud if the conversations were face to face at a dinner table, cocktail lounge or party. Someone might make a snide retort, but generally if the conversation soured, someone would quickly turn to something more innocuous. For men, that’s usually something along the lines of landscape timber or what they bought at Sears. It’s amazing how the latest handyman project can be used to manage almost any conversation whether at work, at happy hour or online.
Now, about those _____ [Vikings, Packers]….