The Day Before the Day After the Election
This is what changed.
A long time ago, before social media, when people spoke to me, they tailored the conversation to what they sensed was a common ground between us and avoided minefields, and I tailored the conversation to what I sensed was that very same common ground between us and avoided minefields, and that was — for the most part — how I communicated with people. For instance, if my friend had a Romney lawn sign in front of her house and I had an Obama lawn sign in front of my house, we’d know that we may not be the best people with whom to discuss the election, and if we talked about the candidates at all, it would be in a lighthearted manner or the importance of voting in general.
We both knew that we weren’t going to convince each other of our point-of-view, but we had the potential to do great damage to the relationship by arguing, so we both politely went our way in order to preserve our friendship. The same is true for many emotionally-charged topics from current events to religion as well as the appropriateness of topics. I didn’t talk about punk rock with my grandparents, choosing instead to save those conversations for my friends just because I didn’t want to be annoying. And I didn’t have deep conversations about Judaism with my Christian friends unless it was to answer one of their questions since I didn’t think they’d want to hear (nor understand) my thoughts on kitniyot.
And we all lived in relative peace, save for the occasional asshole.
And then came Facebook and Twitter and suddenly, everyone needed to tell everyone else everything.
During the last election, great-aunts and PTA presidents didn’t have their act together to utilize the sites in all their glory. But this election? My G-d, we moved from benign status updates recounting everything a person ate in a day to horrifically offensive name calling in the name of supporting a candidate.
In my Facebook and Twitter feeds, people whom I considered to be my friends — both in the face-to-face sense and in the sure-I’ll-add-you-as-a-friend-on-Facebook sense — inadvertently called me an idiot, a bitch, a whiner, and a steaming pile of crap.
I fully expect people who don’t like me to call me these things. But when you write something along the lines of “anyone who votes for Obama is a fucking idiot,” what you’ve done is call me a fucking idiot. And then that same person asked if I wanted to go in on a Groupon together in the next status update. I really didn’t know what to do because she just called me a fucking idiot but also wanted to know if I wanted to go in on a Groupon. Normal social behaviour would dictate that I walk away from you if I had a shred of self-esteem. But we’re also being told not to take social media too seriously, and that it’s ridiculous to unfriend people due to things said on Facebook. So I’m really between a rock and a hard place.
Because I don’t actually want to be someone’s friend anymore once they’ve inadvertently called me a fucking idiot.
The reality is that if I spoke directly with the people who have written these things, they would tell me that they weren’t talking about me. Except that if someone makes a statement such as “anyone who votes for Obama is a fucking idiot,” they are talking about me because I am voting for Obama. I am in that faceless crowd they were denigrating. We’re actually made up of humans. And when we’re called fucking idiots, our feelings get hurt.
We’re responsible for what we say, but we’re also responsible for what we type. We’re even responsible for the things we retweet or like or share.
Before social media, we tailored our conversations to each person rather than trying to interact with everyone all at once. And if we had to share something en masse, we did so politely and with restraint. Hurtful words, back then, were spoken and though the memory of them remained, I didn’t have to look at them over and over again every time I opened up a social media platform. All those times we were called idiots, bitches, whiners, and steaming piles of crap (since all sides engaged in this name calling) are still floating for eternity through the Internet. And they can be called up again at a moment’s notice.
I wish we’d go back to those days when we’d remember that after the election, we’d all still need to be neighbours, so it would be best if we tried to shape the world through kind actions and kind words, asking people to consider another point-of-view rather than berating them.
Back then, we also realized that there were people who weren’t going to change and we left them to be assholes while holding them at arms length.
I’m not just thinking about who is going to lead the country for the next four years today. I’m also wondering how to repair relationships after all the vitriol I’ve read from this election. Not the stating of beliefs because I’m always game to listen to the stating of beliefs that are different from my own.
It’s the name calling that did me in.