Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Political Unfriending: Think Before You Do

Wow, it's been over two years since I've put anything on here. I suppose it's been a while since I had some thoughts I felt truly demanded more words than were reasonable for a tweet or FB post to contain.

So anyways, the reason I came back: political unfriending. This is something that seems to come up from time to time, and Ferguson has been a pretty major catalyst recently. I've had more than a few folks I know clean house on their Facebook, removing people who posted opinions on the matter contrary to their own. I even saw one post of a person thanking Ferguson for making it easy for them to weed out folks they didn't want to be associated with.

I suppose the first thing this points out is just how casually we "friend" someone on Facebook in the first place. I would say that it's a red flag if you don't know enough about your "friends" to be aware of their politics (especially if they're vocal enough to be posting such things online.) However, I understand that people with FB accounts geared towards performance or networking tend to accumulate more people they merely associate with and don't really actually know very well (or indeed at all.) And besides, that's not really the point of this post, so we'll move along.

Personally I have rarely unfriended someone for voicing their political opinion, even if it's one I don't like. What has happened is that the last few election cycles I removed a few people for posting nothing EXCEPT for political things for months on end. It came down to this: I friended you because I want to know about and keep in touch with you - the person. So if you only use FB as a political soapbox and aren't going to actually use it for social interaction then we're not here for the same reason. So those were instances of people no longer being people on their FB accounts and just being political mouthpieces, and for the record I removed folks on both ends of the political spectrum for that nonsense. But again, that isn't quite what I'm getting at.

So what the hell am I getting at? Well, today I did my first unfriending of someone for a post related to Ferguson (actually it was their third on the topic in the same vein, because I try to give folks at least one free pass,) and I found myself really carefully examining why I did it. It was hardly the first post from a friend who held an opinion that I disagreed with on the subject, so why did this one rub me the wrong way? Why didn't I delete about a dozen other people who'd been voicing thoughts on the same side of the divide? Ultimately it all comes down to intent.

I don't want to get too much into my own feelings on what's gone on in Ferguson. The actual shooting of Mike Brown I have very little opinion on at all, because I don't know what happened and only a very small number of people actually do. I do however feel that the aftermath has been very badly handled, to the point that whether or not Darren Wilson had cause to kill Mike Brown is almost irrelevant because what it set off was a mess and focusing on the spark that started the fire while the whole damn house is burning down is a bit backwards to me.

Anyways, I had a friend who voiced some defense of Wilson and the local authorities that I did not agree with (one of the things I feel is clearest is that the local police and their actions in the first few weeks only made everything worse.) However I didn't unfriend her for those feelings. Because I know she's married to a cop, and that ultimately the basis for her feelings was out of a fear of people demonizing the police in general. So this opinion, which I didn't agree with, was rooted in concern for other human beings. I'm not going to begrudge an opinion that someone has when it's based in something as pure as love and concern for others.

As for the person I did unfriend, firstly she wasn't expressing concern. She was expressing anger. That's not a deal breaker unto itself, people certainly have a right to be angry. But when I looked at what was fueling her anger it was all about race. She was mad that a white person being killed didn't make national news the way Mike Brown's death did. She was mad that blacks were hogging all the attention. It was all rooted in a basic racism that I just couldn't ignore. She didn't care about the context. She didn't care about all the ugliness that was brought out. She didn't care that it possibly pointed to a societal pattern in our country. All she cared about was that "some black guy" getting shot was national news. That opinion wasn't rooted in concern. It was rooted in hate. And I had to remove her from my circle of friends.

So as all of this continues to unfold over the coming weeks, I have no doubt that people of all political and social stances will be seeing things in their news feeds that they disagree with, possibly even violently so. However, before you furiously click that "unfriend" button, just take a minute to think about why this friend feels this way. Dig a little deeper, because more often than not what you'll find is someone with fears and concern and love that have just led them to a different conclusion from you. We like to paint those with whom we disagree with the "Hitler" brush. But ultimately the vast majority of us all want the same thing: we want the world to be a better place. Just because we disagree on what will make it better doesn't make that starting premise any less pure. There are surprisingly few people whose contrary opinion comes out of hate.

That said, when you DO find those people you better kick their asses to the curb as soon as possible, because they don't deserve any friends.