It’s a Hate-Hate Relationship: Social Media and the Political Season

On this 14th 9/11 commemoration I am taking a break from my marriage series to reflect on some other issues that have been on my mind recently.

Earlier in the week I read a post that clearly stated that the entire constituency of a particular political party “thinks poor people are poor because they are lazy.” Presumably this statement is aimed at conservative republicans. While it is true that there are constituents of the party that are simple-minded enough to boil poverty down to one reason—laziness, it discounts the millions of party members that understand that poverty is a complex issue, that it blends a mixture of long-standing social and governmental constructs that contribute to its perpetuation in our culture. I point this out only to say that we, all of us, have a tendency to over-simplify how others, with views differing from our own, see and understand the world. For instance, I subscribe to a couple of conservative blogs. I never re-post their articles because know them to be insulting to liberals and an over-simplification of some of their views. One of these blogs frequently refers to Hilary Clinton as “Hildebeast.” I am no supporter of Hilary. Indeed there are issues over which I so deeply disagree with her and concerns I have about her that the divide will not likely be bridged. Yet I refuse to dehumanize her with those kind of insults. This is a dangerous game. The more you simplify how another sees the world and the more you dehumanize them the more likely you are to create a divide of hatred between yourself and that person. This will happen in your own heart and it will happen in the other person as well. You really don’t have to agree with or believe the same thing as another person in order to hear them. And you don’t have to shout out (or click out) insults in order to be heard.
Freak out gif
This brings me to some grave concerns that have been roiling in my spirit the last several weeks. I have this sense of greater hatred and deeper divides than I have felt in my many years on the planet and in this country. It feels more racially divided. It feels more politically divided. It feels more philosophically divided and certainly more socially divided. It feels like different groups and factions are moving farther and farther into their perspective corners. Each one seems to send out a fighter to beat living crap out of each other in an all-out philosophical brawl. It seems like since the advent and proliferation of social media the divide has grown again to a greater extent than it has since the days before and during the civil rights riots of the sixties-though I wasn’t alive then, so I couldn’t truly say how things were.

Here’s the thing about social media. It is so easy to click those keys and say the most outrageously insulting things to one another or about one another. It is easy to grab images and memes and GIFs, laugh at and share them. These images, memes and GIFs almost always boil down an issue a person or a group into one thing and rarely ever take into consideration the complexities that lead any given group or person to their beliefs, philosophies or situations. Then again, I have seen people post images supporting a group or person or idea and have seen others respond to that post, greatly offended merely because of the fact that they didn’t agree with the idea, group or sentiment. It wasn’t because the sentiment was particularly offensive toward any other person or group but merely a post that was positive towards a particular person or group. Fights and divisions then crop up because people take offense that you dare to support something that they do not.

So, now we find ourselves well into the campaign season for the upcoming presidential election. I both love and hate the election season. I love the election season because every few years we are given an opportunity to make changes we believe need implementing, to start fresh, so to speak. Or we are given an opportunity to continue with policies and elected officials we believe are doing a good job or are perpetuating our particular political philosophy. It is a time that can and should be filled with great honor, considered a great privilege and be filled with optimism. Instead, it has become a time of anxiety, anger and hatred. Facebook feeds suddenly become filled with those very memes and GIFs I was talking about earlier. Those broad brushing, sweeping statements that insult an entire group and paint them in the worst possible light.

I say that if you have to broad brush my political viewpoint, religious beliefs or philosophical stand using insults then you must have a very weak argument to support yours (or lack thereof). This political season I would like to post support for my chosen candidate from time to time. I am excited about a few people in the field of candidates. I am a political conservative. I am a Christian. I never want to misrepresent myself or what point of view I will defend and uphold with my support and vote. There’s nothing that forces me to tell you that. I want to tell you that because I welcome honest and respectful discourse.

I want to commit to something this election season. I hope to encourage others to commit to the same thing as well. I commit to posting things that are in support of my chosen candidate(s) that make a positive argument for my political point of view. I will refrain from posting insulting or broad brushing posts about any other political party or candidate(s) with opposing views. I do not promise to refrain from asking real questions about candidates that ought to be asked of each of them. But the questions will be regarding real issues that have to do with their integrity, stance on issues and ability to lead, not in an accusatory or insulting way, but in a way that gives anyone the opportunity to give a real answer. Sometimes the answer to the question will be that a given candidate is indeed weak in a particular area or there may be a valid answer.

I want to encourage anyone who will listen, begin considering what you are posting before you click. Is it worthwhile? Does it openly or sarcastically insult entire groups of people? Does it promote unity, does it further knowledge, or does it bring laughter or a smile? If it does, great, post it. If it tears people or groups down, if it promotes greater divide, if it promotes violence or hatred then please, ask yourself, is it really worth posting? And when someone else does post in support of something you disagree with, ask yourself if you really need to respond viscerally before you’ve had a chance to take a look at the world from that person’s point of view. They probably didn’t post their support in order to directly insult or oppose you. They just wanted to show support for a cause close to their hearts. See that—understand that before you fling the insults.

Having said all this I am sure I may still be tempted when an issue really fires me up. And It sure is hard to resist making fun of one particular candidate. I won’t say any names but he may have floppy hair. See what I did? I’m not perfect. Nonetheless I shall endeavor to both support my party, my faith and my philosophy with all of my heart while practicing the principles I laid out here. I want to take a moment to acknowledge that we, in America, have a long history of political satire in our country. If you are really skilled writer and satirist, then have a go. But you probably aren’t. You probably just sound rather ignorant. So be careful!

Lastly, this election season as I reflect upon 9/11 my mind keeps turning to the picture of a woman, trapped above the impact floors. She stood in her business skirt looking now over the raw and jagged precipice created by the destruction, making a choice. Burn to death or jump to my death? She took her fate into her own hands and rather than be consumed by the flames she chose to jump. As she did so, she placed her hands on her skirt to stop it from flying up. How exquisitely human, this gesture of modesty even in the face of certain death. As I think of this I think about the many suffering and hurting humans in the world today, I think about the things that make us feel so divided, about where we have come since that horrible day. I reflect on the fact that social media has contributed to this divide, people willing to say the meanest things at the click of the button or to broad brush entire groups of people based on the actions of some. And I think today, I want only to reach a hand across a divide and say, I know you don’t think exactly like me, we may even vehemently disagree on some issues, but I acknowledge your inherent value as a human being. No matter what. This doesn’t mean I think the world should be consequence free or that all ideas are equally beneficial, it means only that all humans are of equal dignity and value.

Particularly this morning, I read a post that said “NEVER FORGET, NEVER FORGIVE.” To “never forget” I say, yes! Yes, never forget the sheer magnitude of loss that day. Never forget the decimated potential. Never forget what hatred, unforgiveness and enmity causes. It causes 9/11. To “never forgive” I say vengeance should not be the motivation for chasing down terrorists with extreme prejudice. Love is the reason we do it. Love for those that are in harm’s way because of the bitterness and hatred in men’s heart. So, no, I will not hold the credo “never forgive” in my heart because I always want to leave room there for both love and peace whenever it may be had. It may not always be had, but it will not be because I chose to hold on to hatred, it will because someone else did and innocent lives need protecting. It will be because good people cannot stand by and watch while evil insinuates itself on the world. So I encourage you to speak out on issues you hold dear. Fight for your values, stand up for your principles but never do so at the cost of dehumanizing someone else, even if you feel you must take a very strong stand against them. May THIS 9/11 bring you peace.

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18

“Do not accuse anyone for no reason– when they have done you no harm.” Proverbs 3:30

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