The Great Facebook Debate

February 6, 2013

“Hate can’t drive out hate.  Only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s just too easy for strong words of disagreement to come across as hate on Facebook.  Or at least as unloving.  And as one who aspires to promote love rather than hate, that was a plenty good reason to put myself on a fast from Facebook debates as part of weaning myself off of politics.

You see, when I’m on a political high that is further stoked by Facebook debate, I’m probably not the best monitor of my own words.  Maybe I’m spewing something not unlike the very hate that I hate so much.

I had used my personal Facebook account quite prodigiously to promote my candidate during the mayoral campaign I worked.  I had commented a lot on other people’s posts in an effort to encourage real dialogue about policy and politics based on facts and reason.  My number of Facebook friends had expanded greatly during that period as folks I met on other people’s pages “friended” me.  Either they wanted to engage with me because they agreed with me, or they thought it would be fun to argue with me.

Much to the surprise of some people, I actually don’t enjoy arguments.  The many people who used to tell the teenaged me that I should be a lawyer might beg to differ, as might my husband.  I probably do have an argumentative streak in me.  But that’s exactly why I don’t need any extra incentive to argue.

Sure, there’s a role for debate.  Debates are an important element of politics.  But too much of the time, we call something a debate simply to justify being argumentative or to hurl insults.  We want to prove ourselves better or smarter than another person.  We want cover for simply being mean.

I had to “block” a few people during that campaign season.  That was the first time I had ever done that.  They aligned with the same political party that I tend to, but they supported different candidates than I did.  (In Chicago, the question usually is not whether you are a Democrat or a Republican.  It’s what brand of Democrat you are.)  But who they planned to vote for wasn’t the reason to disengage.  It was their orientation toward hate.  Rather than simply discuss their policy position or point out a politician’s voting record on a particular issue, they tended to use language of attack.  Attacks on me or attacks on candidates other than their own.  Personal and ugly attacks.  Hate.

In other cases, I’ve found a need to hide the comments even of people who share my political views and/or my faith.  Some of them share both with me.  Others share one or the other.  Either way, there are some people whose comments come across as hateful and disgusting, even as they think they are promoting something good.

So when my sabbatical started, I decided that I would not:

  • post any political commentary of my own;
  • participate in debates about politics on other people’s pages;
  • “share” newspaper articles about politics;
  • promote my favorite candidates—friends who were running for office.

That last one was particularly tough.

But I saved myself some pain by staying out of many-a-Facebook debate.  And I saved myself from possibly representing myself in ways I might regret later.  Giving myself a hard and fast rule had really helped me to just stay out of the fray.  Once my sabbatical was over and I waded back into the Facebook political debate space, I surely have irritated some people as some have irritated me. But I have tried really hard to avoid spewing hate.

So should one participate in Facebook political debates? In the end, I think it’s about moderation. And constant self-monitoring.

You see, I’ve found some sense of community by representing my political persuasion on Facebook.  And I consider it to be part of my witness.  So I don’t want to have to disengage completely from those conversations.  Despite the dangers, I’m afraid I’ll miss out.

I’ve connected with some old classmates from Christian college, for example, who I would never have expected to have similar views as mine.  And some of them have expressed to me how refreshing it has been to them to find others like me who share their faith AND their not-so-conservative political points of view.  Rare birds we are.  So I want to walk with them in sharing non-hate-filled policy and political positions with others.  I hope that we can positively influence others to think in new ways about how we together promote good government and the common good.

But to do that, I have to keep focused on love.  And not being argumentative.  Because as someone once said, “No one ever changed their mind because they lost a debate.”

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