I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. The oasis of the South, as some might say. Atlanta leans blue against a sea of red. Couple that with the fact that I attended a progressive K-12 school and was raised by diehard liberal parents and you might say I was sheltered from any deviation from liberal thought.
But I attended summer camp in rural North Carolina and there I was exposed to a different type of Southern culture. Recently, I friended someone on Facebook from this past life whom I hadn’t spoken to in about 10 years. I remembered him as a hilariously kind man, salt of the earth, and was excited to reconnect. When the friend request was accepted, however, his newest post discussed the bible’s denouncement of homosexuality and how he disagreed with the recent supreme court decision to legalize gay marriage. My face flushed with anger. Even though his post wasn’t overtly hateful, I strongly disagreed with his stated beliefs. My immediate reaction was I should unfriend him.
I have to admit, I have unfriended people in the past. Usually around election seasons or when something big like the legalization of gay marriage occurs. I get so pissed off and offended reading what to me are misguided opinions, that with one click of a button, it’s like these people no longer exist. Out of sight, out of mind. But is that a good reaction to have towards people who view the world differently than me?
Looking back, I’m embarrassed that I was so quick to unfriend. Why am I so intolerant towards someone who doesn’t share my ideologies that I cannot even stand for them to be a part of my online community? Why do I want to curate a false reality where everyone is just like me? To be clear, I’m not talking about folks whose posts are overtly racist or homophobic. I’m talking about friends who *gasp* are republicans or are devoutly religious or perhaps are simply sheltered. Being a white, heterosexual woman I have a front row seat to mainstream society. I cannot pretend to know what it would feel like, for instance, for a gay person to read my friends post or a black person to read a post in support of the confederate flag. But for me, if someone holds the aforementioned opinions, it might offend me, but their words don’t hold any power over my way of life.
Therefore, I feel a sense of obligation to make space for discourse with people who hold different views than me. Engaging in conversations with those dissimilar to ourselves is an opportunity. Maybe not an opportunity for change, at least not immediately, but at the very least an opportunity to learn WHY someone holds the views and values he or she does, which is powerful information.
What do y’all think? How can we use social media platforms as tools to educate without alienating? How can we share our thoughts and engage in conversations with those that don’t share our world views online? Personally, I’m turning over a new leaf. Moving forward, I’m going to approach conversations with people who hold opposing views outside of a place of anger. Yes, my blood may boil, but that’s about as much as a persons words can do to me and I need to remember that not everyone shares that privilege. And honestly, I hope people don’t unfriend or unfollow ME, especially now that I use social media to address issues around social justice. I have to be open to hearing opinions I vehemently disagree with if I’m to expect anyone to do the same in reverse. If I’m only conversing with folks who think like me, can any growth be expected?
Do you agree? If not, please don’t unfriend me.