I learned something from a Facebook fight last week. I know, that seems impossible, but it’s true.
My friend Jane was having a hard time with an issue and she posted a question. She was looking for advice. I answered her and so did another friend of ours. She read what we wrote and she thought about it and then she disagreed with us.
If this had happened in real life that might have been the end of it. Or we might have kept talking – continuing to try to persuade Jane that we were right. But this was the Facebook, where there is no way to interpret tone or body language or to read the face of a friend. Another woman answered the question more aggressively than I felt comfortable with and basically called Jane out for asking for our opinion and then ignoring it.
That’s when things started to go off of the rails. That’s also when I figured something out.
Jane had a question. She asked it. I answered it with my personal opinion. She read my opinion and then she disagreed with me.
She didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. Just because I explained myself and even though I feel that I explained myself eloquently, she is under no obligation to change her mind.
I can see you out there, kiddo, reading this and shrugging at your screen as if to say, “Well, DUH!” But do me a favor – go back and look at the last few fights you’ve seen or been a part of on Facebook or on the Internet in general. I don’t mean the bullshit started by trolls, but the real fights amongst real people.
Person A: Why do people get upset when I say XYZ?
Person B: Well, XYZ can be really hurtful if you blah, blah, blah.
Person A: Okay. That’s not a good enough reason for me to stop saying it.
Person C: WELL THEN WHY DID YOU ASK?!?!
Person A asked because she wanted to know. That’s it. She wasn’t asking you to changer her life or save her soul or reform her thinking. She was trying to get some information. The information that Person B gave her was not strong enough to change her mind in the 30 seconds it took her to read it. Maybe she would have come around after thinking about things later. Or maybe she never would have and Person B is actually wrong. Maybe they are BOTH right and BOTH wrong. It’s possible that this shit is complicated and we should stop expecting people to dump their beliefs because we disagree with them.
I’m not talking about facts. When we’re dealing with facts you drop some knowledge, link to some sources and move on. I don’t have the time or inclination to fix everyone’s ignorance.
Think about someone on the fence, or on the other side of an issue asking a question of you about those things. Would you assume that you have a chance to turn them around? Would you answer with an agenda? I think we all would and do.
However, the person asking the question owes the person answering it nothing more than a respectful hearing. That’s it. You don’t get to yell at them for not changing their minds immediately or for not making their minds up immediately and agreeing with you. You don’t get to tell them that they aren’t allowed to ask questions if they aren’t going to do what you suggest. You don’t get to call them names or call them out for not doing what you wanted. You get to try and persuade them or walk away. Can you imagine what the Internet would look like if we all did that? Or even if only a few of us started to do it?
To be honest it really hurt my feelings that Jane didn’t agree with me. I shared some really painful information with her and I was kind of expecting an, “OH! Of course! I should have thought of that!” type of response. Instead I got, “Okay, I hear you, but I don’t think I want to change.” It felt like a slap in the face. How could she hear me and NOT agree? Well… I heard and understood where she was coming from and I didn’t agree with her. Yeah. That’s when it dawned on me – maybe this didn’t have to be personal. Even though this was something I care about deeply and even though she wasn’t agreeing with me – maybe it actually wasn’t about me and my feelings at all. She was looking for information. I provided some. She didn’t judge me for what I said. She didn’t put me down or say that I was wrong. It simply wasn’t enough to change her mind. Since I didn’t have the energy or the inclination to get into a long debate at the time, so I left it alone.
There are real issues that I feel the need to fight online. I call my White friends out on their silence about racism. I call my male friends out on their silence about sexism. I am damn annoying to pretty much everyone when it comes to Maternal Mental Health issues. That takes energy. It takes up space in my head and in my heart. I do it because people are dying and I don’t know how to stay silent about that. I do it because I have children and I need to make a better world for them.
It won’t help my children for me to jump all over a friend for not having a change of heart in a split second. It won’t add anything to the world for me to rant and rage and stew about it online or try to stir things up. Being ‘yelled’ at definitely won’t change her mind, it will only make her defensive.
So the next time someone asks a question or wonders about something I’m going to take a minute before answering. If I do answer it will be with as little expectation as possible. I will tell you what I think. I may ask a question or two myself. I’d be happy to have a discussion as long as we’re both willing to listen. You don’t have to agree with me. I don’t have to agree with you. The world will not come to an end if we both walk away having not changed our opinions one bit.
This post was inspired by my #mommitment and the group of women who are trying to make the internet a little less hostile. Have you taken the pledge yet?
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