I bet that surprises you, that I don’t debate politics on social media. Given how outspoken I am about pretty much everything under the sun, it’s possible you presume I do. It might even seem like I do.
What I do is share articles that might express my views or cover something I believe or support. I write pieces that are frank and unvarnished, thereby revealing my opinions. I comment on posts that—in all sorts of ways —”out” my preferences. I’ll even stand up to those who imply I’m a fool for not agreeing with their positions or preferences. Sometimes I just block them, depending on how rude they are.
But I don’t actually debate. I won’t.
Debating politics on social media is a fool’s errand. In the decade or so in which I’ve been on social media, had a blog, or wrote for journalistic sites like HuffPost and others, experience has taught me the following:
- Everyone has an opinion. Everyone. All people. Everywhere.
- Everyone is right.
- My opinion is less valued/pertinent/correct than theirs.
- They’re convinced they can convince me of their opinion.
- If they can’t, they’re convinced they can insult me, with varying degrees of insults, often on my own page, article, or social media thread.
- They presume insulting others on my page, article, social media thread is also acceptable behavior.
- They presume I haven’t done as much research/thinking/pondering as they have to arrive at their “more correct” opinion.
- They demand I defend my stated preference, presuming I am obligated to respond to that demand.
- If I don’t (which I won’t), they frame it as “cowardice,” or a lack of supporting rationale for my choice.
- Then they dismiss me as clueless, intractable, or locked in an echo chamber.
Sigh. So tiresome.
But no one—not troll, bot, friend, family, or foe—has ever caused me to change my mind about something by virtue of debating me on social media. No one. About anything. Accept maybe the “best donut.” I can go soft there.
The point is, there is no point. I can’t speak for others, but for me, attempting to debate politics—or religion, sex, vaccines, women’s issues, men’s issues, television shows, etc.—is nothing but wasted time, energy, and stress chemicals, none of which I choose to waste or trigger.
Because here’s the thing: I’m a decider. I don’t dwaddle when it comes to making decisions. I’ve learned to trust my gut on issues large and small. I read, watch, ponder, assess, research, talk, listen, learn, and then come to a decision. And, once I do, I’m good to go. You can share your opinion with me if you like, but your opinion is not going to sway mine. The only thing that will sway mine is if my own further research or experience leads to me to be swayed. No offense to you and your research, but it’s possible you and I travel to the beat of a different drum, so I just gotta go my own way (lots of 70s references there, I know).
Someone once asked me, “But don’t you think it’s important to hear other people’s views, so you understand how they think and what causes them to form their opinions? Isn’t it important to be open to listening to others, even those you might not agree with?”
Yes. It’s important. There’s value in it. Just not on social media.
When people are not face-to-face, either in the same room or looking at a shared Go-To-Meeting or Skype screen, they change. At least most people do. When most people are typing at a computer or tapping into a smartphone, they tend to detach from essential aspects of their personalities and decorum, their normal level of good manners, civility, and respect. They get more aggressive, they speak more tersely; they can more readily go to insults, get patronizing and condescending, usually in ways they would not do if you were sitting right across from them in a room. Over a dinner table. Even, likely, speaking on the phone.
Much research has been done on this, the way people act online. I was going to quote a few articles but there were so damn many, I decided to—yes… let you do your own research. Suffice it to say, it’s been scientifically proven that people are meaner online for a whole host of reasons, in most cases, meaner than they would be IRL (online code for “in real life”…see, I learned that!). I will leave this one article here; it’s from a science site and, in its detail, makes the case: Is there a psychological reason for people being mean on the Internet? The answer is: YES.
So, since it’s proven that people tend to be meaner and more hostile and aggressive online, why would I choose to debate controversial, provocative topics in that forum? I wouldn’t. And don’t.
I will “IRL.” And have. Sometimes it’s gotten testy, even heated. Sometimes people storm off or declare “this conversation is over.” And sometimes actual intelligent discourse occurs, and it’s all kind of stimulating and adult when that happens! But that rarely, if ever, happens while debating online.
And, yes, I do know some people actually enjoy social media “fisticuffs.” They get a kick out of taking on a troll, getting down with hardcore opposition, going after people who state idiocies or share ignorance. More power to ’em. That ain’t me. I might do one-or-two rounds for a quick minute, but if the conversation devolves, doesn’t reach detente, or starts spewing like Chernobyl, I’m out. Life is too short and I’d rather watch Netflix.
So, to summarize: if I state an opinion that differs from yours, or share an article that reveals that my lean leans in a different direction than yours… and you think there’s merit in letting me know where you sit on these various things I state or share, feel free. You’re welcome to. As long as you’re civil and respectful, I have no problem with you offering your opinion, choice, preference, or proclivity even in counterpoint to my own. But only do it because you are so moved, we’re colleagues, friends, relatives, etc., and you want me to know where you stand. That’s fine.
Don’t do it with the intent of changing my mind. You won’t. Don’t do it with the idea of belittling or insulting me or my choices. I’ll likely just block you. Don’t do it to try to start a debate. It will never happen… for all the reasons expressed. And certainly don’t do it to pontificate, proselytize, patronize, condescend, man-splain, woman-splain, or otherwise act superior. I can call that Scientology guy back if I want to get into all that.
Now, if we meet for coffee, take a walk on the beach, end up sitting in a room together and those hot topics come up, sure… let’s debate. Kindly. Quietly. With intelligence. And you get the drinks.
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