Everyone Is Right OR Why I Don’t Debate Politics On Social Media

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 doIt might even seem like I do.

I don’t.

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.

Why?

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:

  1. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone. All people. Everywhere.
  2. Everyone is right.
  3. My opinion is less valued/pertinent/correct than theirs.
  4.  They’re convinced they can convince me of their opinion.
  5. 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.
  6. They presume insulting others on my page, article, social media thread is also acceptable behavior.
  7. They presume I haven’t done as much research/thinking/pondering as they have to arrive at their “more correct” opinion.
  8. They demand I defend my stated preference, presuming I am obligated to respond to that demand.
  9. If I don’t (which I won’t), they frame it as “cowardice,” or a lack of supporting rationale for my choice.
  10. 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.


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Art of Art Discussion: Just Quiet Down and Go Create

We all need a break now and again from the day-to-day work that holds our focus. Like the vaunted “15-minutes” regular office workers get to stroll into the cafeteria for java and a Danish, we freelancers take our moments, too; often to hop online for a little social media refreshment. I’m as guilty as anyone; there are days when serious-conversation_smmeeting a deadline, finishing a project, getting errands done, or managing my ever-growing list of marketing tasks all require the interruption of some light trolling on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Huff Po, Fine Art America or any of the groups and discussions one might find here or there. And when I do, I’m typically compelled, by virtue of senses stirred, to jump in. Sometimes it’s just clicks on photos and links I enjoy but, equally as often, the urge for rejoinder is strong. It’s hard for me to read inane chatter, mean-spirited comments, or truly debatable topics without wanting to throw in my two cents!

Certainly political postings corral the lion’s share of this type of response, but more recently I’ve read or partaken in “art discussions” — analysis and deconstruction of style and technique, contest decorum, commerce demands, etc. —  and, much like politics, the tendency for some to veer into cynicism, negativity, and arrogance is apparent. And disappointing.

Like anything else on the Internet, Art is a big topic. Go to any art-oriented site – photography, painting, jewelry design, graphic art, whatever –  and you’ll find opinions on every aspect and angle. And in those discussions, you’ll meet as many wonderful artists as you will curmudgeons, which, frankly, I find surprising. I don’t know why, but I always expect artists to be more uplifting and good-spirited than they often are.

See, I was lucky to have been given a constructive and very positive foundation in my training. My experiences in a wide variety of “the arts” included an overriding message of support, assistance, camaraderie, and the sheer joy of the craft. Certainly there were those who took opportunity for snarky critique, behind-the-back denigrations, sniffing arrogance, or bashing disguised as instruction, but I was fortunate that most of the teachers, professors, mentors, and fellow artists involved in my impressionable youth exuded their own joy in the craft and that imprinted upon me a higher-toned mission statement; one of constructive input, positive output, and personal and communal artistic integrity. Or, as is suggested in this age of The Secret and The Power of Positive Thinking, a “half-full perspective bereft of the toxic effect of negativity.”

talking

“Either love it or do something else,” I was advised. I was also reminded of the old adage, “If you haven’t got something nice to say, don’t say anything.” Which, unless you’re a bona fide reviewer, opinion writer, or comedian, applies to pretty much everyone else.

So it’s jarring for me to read threads in which artists snipe at each other, knock down the work of others; become “authorities” about what is or isn’t Art (as if they, in particular, know!), criticize and demean the marketing choices of fellow artists, or denigrate any aspect of the industry – art or commerce –  that they, personally, don’t appreciate or wish to partake of. These are the kind of people who find fault and spew criticism, whose toxic brew of negativity was what a mentor of mine used to call “sour-pussing.” Glass half-empty. Discordant. Contrary.

For example; at Fine Art America, the very well managed site that provides hosting, printing and delivery of fine art photography and paintings – and a place where I’ve met a slew of very talented, supportive artists who are smart, enjoyable people – there is a contingent (likely too large a one) that “sour-pusses” on a regular basis. A discussion thread commenced recently regarding the winner of a now-concluded “Times Square Art Contest.” The woman who started the thread posited her prompt with a tsunami of criticism; of the winning piece, the artist, the contest, the overall marketing demands of the art world, concluding with a cranky assessment of “the whole thing.” (Frankly, I wanted to get her a juice box and tell her to take a nap!) But, more disappointingly, what followed this diatribe was a slew of commiserating comments, supporting her thesis to some degree or another. Lots of judgment of other artists’ work, denunciations of the overall state of the industry, snarky rejoinders about contests that “demean” artists into “begging” for votes, right down to a nihilistic grump-fest that included the statements, “There will be artists as long as there is society, but that too is coming to an abrupt halt. America is going under as we speak, and the rest will follow in quick order,” and the exceedingly grim “THERE IS NO FUTURE to ART. Humanity is much more interested in Ipods and marching blindfolded into the future. We are the last artists on this planet.”

All I could think was…WTF?!?

I shook my head as I read this manifesto of negativity, wondering how these people got out of bed, much less found the energy and inspiration necessary to create art. Luckily there were a few bright individuals who spoke up to shoot down the negative trend and did so with enough intelligence, optimism, and artistic good-will to offset, to the degree they could, the snarling hordes but, I have to say, I was disappointed that so many seemed hell-bent on ripping Art, and its artists, a new one! I was tempted to leap in and make my points, but realized, with some weariness, that the thread leader was jumping on every response with her continuing brand of snark and snarl and it was just too nice a day to get involved in that level of crankiness…though I did send an email to the most cogent and wise of her debaters, thanking him for his insight!

While I agree that we all have “the right to our opinions,” as Debbie Downer repeatedly pointed out, too many seem to have missed the lessons of integrity, constructive thinking, artistic magnanimity, and a positive, supportive outlook. Clearly Art has long had a history of creative personalities who were churlish and mean-spirited; many who were (are?) burdened with insecurities, jealousies, schadenfreude, and plain old nastiness, but in the communal world of online art exchange and discussion, there really is no room or reason for all that.

But people are who they are; I can’t change them. The woman running that thread is clearly a person with many other issues in her life that contribute to the attitudes she exudes online. But while I feel sorry for her (and certainly anyone in her near circle!), I ain’t gonna debate her. Because I reserve my perspective, my thoughtfulness; my contribution, for conversations that are constructive and focused on offering views and opinions that transmit something positive and helpful, rather than the banal, deflating, blather-fest of negativity I found on that thread.

stepping-into-the-plaza

My suggestion to that crowd? Stop talking and go create. If you have that much time to spend tearing down others in a community setting, go make another piece of art instead. Rather than getting some kind of buzz out of stirring up mutual frustration to feed your own, shut off your computer and pick up a brush or a camera. Don’t worry about what others are creating, just create. Quit expounding on what you think is stupid and create. Don’t announce what you won’t do, just do what you will do. If you don’t have the desire to be in a contest, don’t; but don’t cut down others who do. Don’t want to ask people to vote for your work? Again, don’t. But quit yacking about others who have no problem garnering support for theirs. And if someone wins a damn prize, offer congratulations and accept that even if “it’s not really creative” to you, it clearly is to someone else…enough that they won! And if you don’t have it in you to congratulate them…

Just quiet down.

Stop talking.

And go create.

All photographs by Lorraine Devon Wilke

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.