Monday, May 6, 2013

Getting along - Empathy with Differences

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw that one of my friends had posted a message saying she was anti-[Whatever]. I say anti-[Whatever] so you can insert here whatever kind of hot-button topic you want, Abortion/Pro-life, Homosexual rights, Israel-Palestine conflict. Whatever pushes your buttons.

This presented me with a problem. I was pretty upset by what she had said, and here's a summary of my thoughts:

"Oh, my gosh she believes THAT!?

"I don't want to see that kind of thing. Maybe I should block the website it came from."

"Maybe she's so different from me, she's so far on the 'other side' that I should not be her friend anymore. We aren't close, I only met her once at a party. I haven't put anything into this relationship. I can drop her and nobody I know will care."


At the same time, I know that one thing I'm trying to change about myself with this empathy practice is to open myself up to people. Yes, I might get hurt, but that doesn't change what I should do. I needed to know why she was doing this, at the same time I needed to let her know that what she was doing was hurtful.

So I decided to message her privately.

I let her know how upset I was by her post. I pointed out a few issues with her position, but primarily I let her know that if she kept posting things like this I will have to block her posts. I asked her to give me more information about her statement, and why she felt it necessary to share this one-liner with all of her friends on Facebook.

I was angry, but I didn't want to let that get in the way of communication. We had some back and forth, her stating her position (quite strongly) and me trying to understand her position. In the end, what I realized is that I was not trying to argue with her. 

I didn't want to fight over who was right, and who was wrong. I did, and do, truly believe that she has every right to her position. However I did want to let her know that I had a lot of trouble with her post on Facebook for two reasons. One, it seemed to miss any and all of the subtleties of her as a person and her position as a whole. I believe that a one-liner saying what ‘side’ you are on stands in the way of discussion. It's like (to me) that she was choosing which sports team to root for. Anyone rooting for the other side immediately would become grouped as 'the enemy'. Was she trying to invite debate? Was she hoping to convince her friends and family? I wondered, and asked her, how many of her other friends she's pushed away through these types of posts.

Another reason that I told her for why I had trouble with this type of blanket one-liner statement is that it encourages others to feel good about hating [Whatevers]. These are not the type of statements that encourages peace, love and understanding. 

Here's a great way to get along with others. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Here's a video talking about a fun way to do that, from SoulPancake, called "Take a seat, make a friend".

Have you had this happen to you? What did you do?



Elizabeth Patterson said...

There is someone I used to teach who I am still connected with on Facebook. He posts homophobic slurs, and is a member of anti-gay marriage Facebook groups. His profile picture right now is a picture created by an anti-gay marriage group as a response to the popular equal sign. I have wondered for a while whether I should remove him from my friends. It's odd, though. When he was my student, I never knew he had these views, and I really liked him. I have memories of thinking he was a great guy, and then I read his really horrible comments on Facebook.

Another guy I went to college with recently wrote a status on Facebook basically saying he was pro-access to emergency contraception. He received a lot of responses, and then he wrote a comment saying "Well, I know that anyone who has to use Plan B is an idiot." I found that comment sexist and ignorant, so I replied where everyone could see, "You don't get a feminist cookie for saying you support access to emergency contraception and then calling anyone who uses it an idiot. Women use emergency contraception for all kinds of reasons other than unprotected sex..." (and so on). He immediately responded, apologizing for his ignorant statement and saying that he didn't deserve my feminist cookie remark. I then apologized for the feminist cookie, but, deep down, I still kind of feel that way. If he were a real ally to women, he would not have followed up with such an ignorant statement. I only apologized because I thought maybe it was cruel of me to be name calling, instead of responding with respectful disagreement.

It's odd that I responded to these two situations different ways. The first person was someone I was very fond of, so I haven't responded. The second person was someone I never liked very much, so I responded in a hurtful way.

Janet said...

Hi Liz - thanks so much for commenting. I wonder what the first friend would have done, if you had confronted them?

It sounds like that you were hurt by both of them. :( Hugs.


I can't help thinking about the idea of a feminist-cookie. Would it be chocolate chip? Oatmeal raisin?

- Janet

Elizabeth Patterson said...

Well, I hope it would be chocolate chip.

susan thom said...

this is a hard one for me because i only deal with friends on facebook, and i don't confirm anyone i don't know, therefore, i guess i have separated those who would have a hugely different opinion than mine from my friends, who are my friends because they believe the same way i do. i never thought about this question, and i have never come across anyone who i felt offended by. if, however, it were to happen, i think i would just block that person from my site, and not even bother asking them why they said such a thing.
if they were to contact me on my email, and ask me why i blocked them, i would have to tell them.
actually, i did recently block someone because some of the pictures they posted were offensive to me, and i was questioned about it, and i just told them the truth-i didn't like some of the pictures they posted.
not confronting them, but having them confront me, was more comfortable to me.that just recently happened, but never has before or since. but to answer the question, as i said, i would block someone i didn't want on my site, and if they questioned me, i would tell them the truth.

Wire said...

I believe my life would be poorer if I surrounded myself only with people who believe the same way I do. A different point of view, a dissenting opinion, a respectful debate... these are things of value, I think.

Janet said...

To: Elizabeth - I totally agree, chocolate chip would be awesome.

To: Sue - It sounds like that you left it up to them to come to you. I wonder about the people you chose to drop that didn't come to you; did they even realize the change?

To: Wire - Hmm. I agree. I think I would find it pretty dull if everyone around me was exactly like me. Unless I was in a sci-fi story about clones, maybe that would be cool. :)