There is a line that I sometimes don’t know which side to sit on. One on side I decide to close my mind, eyes and Twitter feed off voices that I think are bringing division to the world. Even just people who believe wholeheartedly that theirs is the correct stance.
Sometimes these people are evil, racist and led by fear. Sometimes they are genuinely good people but who are missing a significant part of the puzzle or just can’t see it. Or don’t want to.
Then I remember that the people I view in this way, definitely have the same opinion of me.
Then just on the other side, although it can seem such a long way away, there is the decision to engage with these people. How I engage can really depend on how frustrated I am with them. If it’s someone who just doesn’t listen and who makes no attempt to really listen, I will send a comment, hoping that somehow this will change their whole worldview.
Even when I know that if it was the other way around, I wouldn’t move a budge.
I will try and engage civilly and hope this will do the trick.
Rarely though, does it work to change their minds.
We’ve gotten so used to being online all the time, that we forget that there are real ways to create change, not just on Twitter.
Sometimes I will decide that in order to create some healthy boundaries, I should unfollow that person.
Even if they are not a bad person but their output on social media drives me crazy, unfollowing is the best course of action.
I give too much head space to their ideas and even though I believe they are wrong; I know that discussing anything on social media never changes anyone. Never. I truly believe that.
So I unfollow and it feels great and most of the time, I even forget they exist for a while. I have experienced this with complete strangers on social media and with people that I know. (The latter is very strange when you are reminded by someone else replying to a status or tweet, that the person who you know exists but had forgotten exists, exists).
For a while, I flourish in the freedom of not being reeled in by social media. I feel better physically, spiritually, emotionally, all the -lys.
Then something that I feel passionate about will start trending. The recent vote back home to potentially allow the LGTBQ community marry whoever they want is one that always gets people going. Or Trump tweets something racist and Christians I know as good, decent people are quick to defend him and I can’t just be quiet.
I try to, knowing that ultimately my opinion is not going to change anyone. If you like Trump, there’s really nothing he can say or do that will change your mind. He was correct with his famous assertion that he could shoot someone on 5th avenue and they would still support him. So, I’m pretty sure my pointing to the obviously racist and fearful things he says is not going to make a difference.
Should I be quiet then in these cases then? If nothing really changes, what’s the point?
If I remain silent and ignore these voices, I may feel healthier but at what cost?
You see, none of these things directly affect me. I’m white, male, heterosexual, from another Western country and even though an immigrant, I am one of the good ones. See the first three descriptors in the previous sentence for why.
Marriage equality doesn’t affect me because I’m married already and will be recognized as married anywhere I go. Trump’s racism doesn’t affect me because I don’t scare him. I’m not in danger, at least not yet, from any of his beliefs about immigrants and don’t need to worry about the fear he stokes in his supporters hurting me.
Still, I can’t be silent about those issues because even though I won’t be affected directly, I know people who will. Friends and family. Not to say that I’m always consistent. Most of us in some way or another will selectively choose what causes to get behind. Just earlier today, I scrolled past a petition because it didn’t affect me whatsoever.
As I read the brief description, I stopped for a moment, finding myself agreeing with the purpose but continuing to scroll. It was for a good cause, an important one, crucial even but others will take care of it. Adding my voice on its own wouldn’t do much to help anyway.
I don’t think I explicitly thought all these things, as I turned my focus to the next tweet, but I see now that I made these tiny, fast decisions which led me to ignoring something that would have taken me a minute to sign.
Was this my wasted moment like the people in the Good Samaritan story who just walked on by? The point where I could have stopped to help but that it would be too much of an inconvenience.
Not today, but for sure at other times, I’ve also lamented the inconsistency of some people’s beliefs. One that is particularly striking to me is that of the pro-life movement. For most people who would attribute this label to themselves, it begins and ends with a baby before it is born. Much less energy is given, if any to things like fostering and adoption, maternity leave, providing shelter for homeless people and making sure everyone has enough to eat.
But am I any better? If I cry out over the unfair treatment of people who are trying to find a life for their families in the US and who have their children ripped away from them, with unimaginable, long lasting, damaging consequences on Twitter, but don’t contribute something to many of the great causes that are working to fix this somehow, then I have to admit, I am no better.
Maybe worse, since I’m so unconscious to my own inconsistency that I find myself projecting it onto others who do the same?
And here’s the twist, the petition I scrolled past yesterday was to improve the maternal care for black women. If I’m not going to demonstrate the very things, I am disappointed in others from not doing, I’m worse than them.
All this has brought me to this place where I think I have struck a good balance between turning off those voices that I believe are creating division and hurt for people not like them (and me if I’m honest) and actually working to bring light to those same places.
I first realized that this may be the solution the night that Trump was elected President. In between the moments of shock and bewilderment, something in me was excited. Not for Trump to be president but realizing that this would be the time that many of us could stand up for what we believe is right and use our privileged voices to fight for those who couldn’t.
I could spend my time and energy simply trying to drown out the voices of people like Trump or people who I deeply disagree with. Whether I saw them as good but maybe just people who felt like their country or beliefs were being mocked, or whether their actions were propelled by deep hatred, racism and fear of the other; arguing with them was not going to work.
What could work though, would be to ignore those voices to a degree, but use mine for good.
To not engage with people who don’t really want to hear another side and instead give all those butterflies I feel inside that there is a better way, an imaginative way ready to be propelled into the world, space to flutter.
Much of this comes from wanting change so people of the same sex can get married, kids can go to school without them or their parents worrying if they will come home alive later, where women can have the final say over their bodies or where people who look different to the president can find refuge and acceptance here.
The rest of it though comes from not wanting to be like them. From not wanting to be afraid of those groups so much so that it makes you angry and paranoid.
I don’t want to be angry and paranoid.
This way of making sure our voices are heard louder, where love is the undercurrent to everything reduces the obvious risk of seeing those people who want to cause pain as the “other” too. I want to be less interested in getting into debates with people, than I am showing what I believe by how I act.
Of course, we need to challenge incorrect facts or biases or where the powerful are using their power unjustly but sometimes just arguing with them is futile.
All of this I believe begins with our own self-awareness. From understanding our own pain and motivations and running right for it, in order to heal. Personally, this begins by letting go of caring what people think of me. By joining intimately with my own shadow – all the parts of me that I’m ashamed of, ignoring the people that I want to like me until I’m so comfortable with my shadow that when I turn towards them again, I have no need or desire even for their validation.
Then I will be free to stand up again voices that are hurting others, whether intentionally or not. I will be free to notice in my own life where I am being inconsistent. Furthermore, I will be able to see it and change for the better because my identity and validation isn’t wrapped around certain people thinking highly of me anymore. Even people I disagree with.
If we were all to do this work, then there wouldn’t be the need to stand up against people like Trump or opposed to whatever way you see injustice happening in the world
Because less of us will want to knock others down, because no longer will we be afraid of immigrants or gay people or Muslims or the “other”.
That may be an unattainable dream. In fact, I would say it is. We’ve had plenty of opportunities throughout history to do this and most of us don’t and haven’t and won’t. It’s just too personally painful.
But there’s still time.
Just arguing on Twitter may not be the best use of it.