The other day I made the mistake of posting something controversial on my personal Facebook wall. I usually don’t, because I have a lot of “friends” on there whose backgrounds, opinions and beliefs are all across the spectrum, and I try not to invite flame wars between them. Most of the stuff I write on this blog doesn’t even make it there. I usually just stick to posting meaningless fluff, like funny articles, random thoughts, or pictures of food.
But I let my guard down. I shared Elizabeth Rawling’s Freshly Pressed blog post “How to be a Christian without being a jerk about it,” and a Facebook friend of mine responded by, well, being a jerk about it (and inadvertently proving Rawling’s point). The comments section quickly devolved into a predominantly one-sided yelling match about faith, science, evolution, hell, monotheism, you name it, complete with ALL-CAPS, as other Facebook friends took turns “poking the bear.” Some even shared sentiments such as “The tone deafness on display here is why I’m no longer a Christian,” to no apparent effect.
I shouldn’t have let it go on for so long unchecked, but I did for three reasons:
1. It was just so comedically ironic.
2. I barely had a chance to actually go on Facebook during the two days it took to spiral out of control.
3. It was intrinsically interesting to the Communications major in me to observe how it all unfolded.
Eventually it became clear that Absolutely No Good was going to come from the conversation – I even began receiving private messages from concerned Facebook friends about it – so I deleted the thread in entirety.
As I wrestle with how to approach this, try to tease out what I can learn from the whole ordeal, I find myself reflecting on why it even happens in the first place. Why does everything “I” say seem to make sense, and everything “you” say seem so irrational? Why can the simple mention of something like gun rights, gay marriage, or God cause normally reasonable people to instantly resort to ALL CAPS?
There are a few things at work here:
First, confirmation bias means that I will seek out opinions, information and studies that confirm and strengthen the things I am already inclined to believe . And so will you.
Second, I will likewise ignore or filter out opinions and information – no matter how reasonable or credible they may be – that contrast with my views. And so will you.
Third, it’s difficult for me to accept your contrasting opinion or information, because it would call into question a whole array of other beliefs I hold, and I want to keep the feelings of cognitive dissonance – the feeling that results from simultaneously holding incompatible ideas – to a minimum. And so do you.
Finally, my I’ve tied my identity to some of those hot button issues – religion, politics, lots of things that end with -ism – and will react to an attack on my side of the issue as an attack on my identity. And so will you.
For all of these reasons and more, the chances of us being able to have an open-minded, reasonable and rational discussion about controversial topics, meaningful issues, things that are actually important to us, are discouragingly low. The odds are stacked against us. If anything, we are more likely to end up farther apart than when we started.
But, I’m an eternal optimist.
I believe there is a middle way through most arguments.
I believe that we can choose to approach oft-debated subjects with charity and grace rather than with pride and something to prove.
I believe that, if we are aware of the pitfalls of debate as mentioned above, we can grow beyond them.
I believe that the internet can be an ideal place to sincerely seek to understand our Other.
I believe that we can get to the heart of matters with strangers.
…As for friends, I’m still working on that one.
For Further Reading:
The Gospel Of… Hate? – Breaking Moulds
An Honest Facebook Political Argument – College Humor