New Political Paradigm

Anybody who’s been on Facebook in the last twelve months knows it can be a political minefield. And that minefield hasn’t stopped exploding, even though the election’s over. Posting anything political to Facebook is extremely risky, because you’ve got a wide range of friends and acquaintances on there, many of whom are not afraid to disagree with you–volubly–if you post something they don’t like.

Meanwhile, our society becomes more and more politically extreme, splitting between Reps and Dems, often more interested in sticking it to the other guy than to getting things done.

I’m looking at you, Congress.

I’m certainly not guiltless of all of this. I’ve unfollowed people on Facebook who consistently post things I disagree with, I’ve gotten into pointless arguments that go around in circles, I’ve gotten my news from Facebook and therefore had it tailored to my political sympathies. (Until I used an adblocker to block the Facebook news feed because by God, if I have to see one more stupid article about the parenting skills of some toddler who fell into a gorilla cage at the zoo…)

Clearly, we need a new approach to political discourse. We need to change the atmosphere from fraught to friendly. We need to move toward bipartisan programs.

Again, I’m looking at you, Congress.

We do need our leaders and our media to pick up on this: but we can start the trend. A grassroots campaign. And here’s what I’ve been doing, a program I think we can all live with:

Posting carefully on Facebook.

Now, hear me out. Yes, you have freedom of expression. You can write anything on your wall that you damn well want to, and you can pick any argument you please. But that’s not really helping things. As a writing teacher, I constantly had to remind my college freshmen that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar: if you insult and offend someone, they’re going to stop listening to you, and there’s no way you’re going to convince them of anything.

So I’ve got a careful policy on political posting on Facebook: I post things that people on both sides of the aisle can agree with. Or that at least won’t get me involved in any flame wars from either side.

But how is that possible in this political climate? I hear you saying. Especially if you want to express your opinions openly? You’d actually be surprised how much material there is out there to work with. I’ve found amazing articles on cracked.com that deal helpfully with views from the other side of the aisle (for instance, despite the title, this is an amazing piece I would love for more of my fellow Dems to read), and John Oliver manages to do it frequently on Last Week Tonight.

Let me give you an example of a post that expressed my true political views and yet did not alienate anyone. It’s on the subject of abortion.

Despite our differences, I believe conservatives and liberals can agree that we would love to see a day when no woman ever felt she NEEDED to get an abortion. For the most part, that is actually an achievable goal. The first step is to make contraception universally available.

 

This post, written on one of the most divisive political subjects in our culture, was liked by 22 people, commented on by a couple more, and not a single person flamed me.

What we need is to try a little sympathy. Another thing I’m always telling my students: imagine you’re someone who disagrees with the position you currently hold. Don’t just set up a straw man: actually think through what offends them, what hurts them, what scares them. Look at what you write through their lenses. Maybe if enough of us can do this on Facebook, we can start doing it in the rest of our lives, too.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying you’re not allowed to disagree with people politically. I’m not saying you can’t express your political views online, or even on Facebook, when other people disagree with you.

What I’m asking for is for people to stop demonizing the other side. Trust that people who are voting differently than you are mostly doing so for good reasons: because they have their own fears, their own problems, their own ideas of what will solve those problems. I’m asking that we stop demonizing each other. Yeah, there are bad people on both sides. But that doesn’t mean we need to stereotype everybody who voted for candidate A or B as… well, anything. Stop calling all Republicans a bunch of racists. Stop calling all Democrats a bunch of baby-murderers. Just… stop calling names in general. Try listening, empathizing, finding solutions, finding compromises both sides can live with. It’s the only way we’re ever going to get anywhere–and the only way to engage politically without being a political bigot. I mean that: there are racial bigots and religious bigots, and political bigots are no different, except that they’re more accepted by today’s society.

Please: try some understanding, and try to avoid name-calling. Then we can build a society we’re all proud of.

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