My good friend, who I respect and care about, posted a political joke on her Facebook page by 'liking' it. As a result, I saw it in my news feed. It clearly wasn't an invitation to a discussion, it was simply a hurtful thing said by folks from one political party about folks from another political party.
I had feelings in all sorts of different directions when I read this; anger, sadness, and disgust to name a few. But my first coherent thought was "That's not funny". My second thought was, "Do you really feel that way about me?"
After my friend posted this, I started to let it get to me. I thought, I won't forget this for a long time. I'll remember this when I see her at the grocery store, when her kids are at the school recital and I when we see each other at trick-or-treating or other local events.
That's horrible! She made one statement online and suddenly the reasons I like and respect her go out the window. That's not a strong friendship, I thought, if it can be destroyed by one image.
But then I had a different thought. I didn't choose to be friends with her because of her political affiliation, her religion or her stance on abortion law. I choose a person as a friend because we treated each other kindly, and respected each other. So what was really going on here?
When I first joined social media o-so-many years ago I made a joke at someone's expense. What I didn't realize was, that they also were able to see it. I never forgot that moment when I talked to the person later, in-real-life, and she asked me that same question, "Do you really feel that way about me?"
Of course it wasn't just a joke, right? It was an expression of a feeling I was having at one moment, based on the understanding that only certain people (people who understood how I felt, and agreed with me) were reading it. It was me saying something mean that I would never, never have said to her face.
I've seen a lot of this lately; this vitriol thrown about so that nobody can ignore it. It's as if we're going to work or school or bars or restaurants wearing our political parties on neon green t-shirts or tattooed to our foreheads. It feels like a very quiet act, when I like or share a post. But I know that to the person reading it the message has the volume turned all the way up.
I wish I could go back in time and take back every re-tweet, share, like or comment on political stories in social media. But I can't undo what's been done.
What I can do is choose to try to have empathy for her. I'd rather assume she's just quietly saying "Hey, I like this". That maybe, just maybe, she didn't mean to shout at me.