On Civil Discourse in Social Media, or That Time My Friend Called My Mom an Asshole on Facebook

I read this post by Ginger at RambleRamble today.

There is a PERSON behind the things you are saying. When you say that all liberals, or all conservatives…when you say that all Democrats or all Republicans…when you say that ALL of any group is/says/does/thinks/behaves/believes/hates/loves/etc., you are saying that about real people. Honest to goodness, flesh and blood people. Not just ideologies. Not just platforms. Not just issues. Not just politicians. Your friends. Your family. Your neighbors. Your coworkers.

I was about to say “this amazing post,” but, really, isn’t what she is saying just common sense and common courtesy? Still, she said something that needed to be said, because people need to be reminded that actions often make a difference, and words sometimes make scars.

Take Joe. Joe is gay. He can’t vote Republican, because of the anti-gay rights issue. But he also thinks that Obamacare will bankrupt the country, so he’s not too jazzed about voting Democrat. What kind of choice does he have? And either way, he gets lambasted by the side he doesn’t pick. He votes for a Democrat, and suddenly, he’s “on the government dole.” Just because the poor guy couldn’t bring himself to vote for the people who refused to recognize his civil right to marry whom he wants! Or he votes Republican, and gets to hear all the time about how much he hates gays. He is gay, for fuck’s sake. Does he hate himself? Or maybe he just feels that healthcare mandates will sink his business, and that is slightly more important to him in this election.

Or then there’s, oh, I don’t know . . . my mom. She is voting for Romney (I guess. I didn’t actually ask.)
When I post the article above on Facebook, voicing my agreement, folks weigh in. I think, well, it’s a post about civility on Facebook. People will respect that. They will be civil.

An *acquaintance replies: “I think name calling is ugly, but I will always use my voice for Civil Rights.”

I’m down with that. I do that myself. But i try not to fall into complete and total name calling. I try.

Me: ‘”Civil” – emphasis on civil.”

Acquaintance: “true dat. I stay civil for the most part. but if you are arguing with me that Romney is good for women, I will most likely call you an asshole.”

More posts from other people, in agreement or disagreement.

Acquaintance: “Intolerance is intolerance.”

Why yes, it is. Except, evidently, if you feel that you are right. And then it’s okay.

More posts about “liars,” and “can’t we all just get along,” and “everyone’s already decided who they’re voting for, so what’s the point,” and “isn’t Facebook for venting?”

My Mom: “Just read all of the above. All I learned is that [acquaintance] thinks I’m an asshole.”

Well, yeah, Ma. That’s pretty much all I, or the rest of Facebook, got out of it too. We continue to be raked across the coals by others who believe that if you aren’t with them, you are against them.

So what was the point? Other than for me to be like, “Damn, Acquaintance. I think you’re an okay person, but you did pretty much just call my Mom an asshole.” Along with PROBABLY MORE THAN HALF THE PEOPLE I GREW UP WITH, 3/4 OF MY FAMILY, AND HALF OF AN ENTIRE COUNTRY.

And you know why? Because their priorities are different, and one is intolerant of another’s choice in priority. Or maybe you both care about women, but one of you think that means free birth control and freedom of choice, and one of you believes that it is more helpful for women to live in a country that isn’t going to be crumbling in debt in 20 years.

What is the answer? Hell if I know, but I know what it isn’t. It definitely isn’t some friend of a friend calling my Mom an asshole on Facebook.

I should probably heed this advice a bit more myself. I am not perfect – not even close – but when it comes to politics, I try to be thoughtful and eloquent and not to cuss like a sailor, because I am constantly appalled at all of the people who make sweeping generalizations about huge groups in our country.

“Right-wing Christians won’t stay out of my uterus.”

“Democratic Socialists want to destroy our country from the inside.”

If you vote Republican, you are:

“A moron,” a “nazi,” “uninformed,” “racist,” “unintelligent,” “materialistic,” or “downright evil.”

If you vote Democrat, you are:

“A moron,” “unpatriotic,” “bleeding heart,” “godless,” “communist,” “atheist,” “Muslim-masquerading-as-an-American,” “socialist,” “marxist,” or a “terrorist.”

It’s just ridiculous. It’s like only seeing a world colored in with the 8-color box of Crayolas. Try the 64-color box with the sharpener, folks!

That is what a Crayon Box Should Look Like
That is what a Crayon Box Should Look Like by BenSpark, on Flickr

There is more than one shade of Red, and more than one shade of Blue. Some of us are Purple. Some of us are Green. Some of us are not even crayons; we are those pens that have four colors in them, and the color changes depending on which button you push when you need a particular color.

Bic four colour pen. Classic doodle biro.
Bic four colour pen. Classic doodle biro. by MikiStrange, on Flickr

I tell you, people exist in more than eight colors. Where do these crayons fit?

  • Fiscal Conservative who votes Democrat because of civil rights issues
  • Social Conservative who votes Democrat despite civil rights issues
  • Christian Democrats
  • Pro-Choice Republicans
  • Gay Republicans
  • Gay Christians
  • Republican parent with a gay son or daughter
  • Person who eats Chik-fil-a, but thinks two men or two women should be able to marry, have children, adopt children, and be afforded equal rights
  • Person who believes that the government should not recognize any marriages at all
  • Democrat who is anti-choice
  • Agnostic or Atheist Republican
  • Democrat for the death penalty
  • Independent who chooses the lesser of two evils, because they just don’t want the “really bad guy” to win, and to do anything else throws away their vote
  • Independent who decides to vote on principle, and is continually frustrated by other Independents who don’t do the same

I didn’t just create this list out of thin air. These are examples of real people, with real lives, who really struggle with voting on “the issues,” because their lives are not black, or white, or an 8-color box of crayons. And someone thinks every one of those people is an asshole. They said so. On Facebook.

Everyone just keeps trying to jam these Lavenders, Neon Carrots, Manatees, Burnt Siennas, Mahoganys, Crimsons, Flaxes, Forests, and Navys into the 8-color box. We don’t fit. We just don’t fit, and then you tell us we are wrong, evil, stupid for not fitting.

*Person I know. To be fair, she didn’t say, “Hey, Anne. Your mom is an Asshole.” But my Mom thinks voting for Romney is best for our country. Not sure if she thinks he is good for women, but I assume so, because she took offense at the statement. And that happens every five seconds for someone on Facebook. I’m not writing this post to call out this person. (Believe me, when I call people out, I do it by name.) This person is simply an example. This person is not an isolated incident. This person is most of us. Not a friend exactly, but the friend of friends. We have mutual acquaintances. We have mutual friends. Our kids have played together. I think she’s interesting and nice. I would never think she would call my mom an asshole. But she pretty much called my mom an asshole. On Facebook. In front of me. It’s cool. She’s not the only one. She just happened to be the example that happened in the thread where i posted about an article pleading for civility on Facebook. She just happened to be the one who missed the point completely. Am I mad? No. Do I still like her? Yes. Will I ever forget she called my mom an asshole? Nope. Will I forgive her? Yes. Do I hope she, and everyone who reads this, will think twice before making a sweeping generalization or hurling an insult on Facebook? Yes.

Update: Ginger, the author of the original blog post that prompted my post, has posted The Inevitable Follow-Up Post. Well worth a read.

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7 Responses to “On Civil Discourse in Social Media, or That Time My Friend Called My Mom an Asshole on Facebook”

  1. susan says:

    Yup. I vote Dem. But I own guns. I like hunting and sport shooting. Life is a paradox. Thank God we live in a country that supports the Freedom to live the paradox.

  2. Dogwood Girl says:

    Agreed, Susan. Thanks!

  3. buckpony says:

    Great post to share – what a great reminder to watch what we say. I have been guilty of it, too. Check out this children’s book that says it all in a very eloquent poem: http://www.amazon.com/The-Crayon-Box-that-Talked/dp/0679886117#reader_0679886117

    I own this book and need to go read it to my daughter’s 2nd grade class. Making a note to do that now…

    Thank you again for sharing this post. 🙂

  4. Dogwood Girl says:

    Thank you for reading!

  5. chichel says:

    Totally agree with the call for civil discourse. However, I have been barraged by warnings, graphics, notes, etc. telling me how sick people are of seeing posts about politics. Not any specific brand of post. Just all posts. Sigh. It’s an election year. Don’t read the posts you don’t like. That is all. Oh, and I take socialist and bleeding heart as a compliment. 🙂

  6. Dogwood Girl says:

    Yes, i understand the right to free speech and the right to simply ignore things you disagree with. I am okay with folks posting to their hearts’ content about politics, but if we are not civil, we can never win hearts and minds. What is the point in being rude? And yes, it is on both sides – no doubt about it. LOL about Socialist and Bleeding Heart. Thank you so much for posting a comment!

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