I’ve been thinking recently about debates on the internet and why they make me so uncomfortable. It’s so hard to say what you think without the opinion being noted down and you placed in a category of person who thinks this or that. It’s hard to link to articles that interest you without assumptions being made about what you must therefore think about a whole load of other issues. It’s not a place of nuance and discussion most of the time. I have a friend who writes a secret blog for this reason that only real flesh and blood friends can read. I wish her stuff was more widely available because I love her voice but I understand her fears, of what others will say or label her as, entirely.
I hate all these things partly because I am so affected by what others think of me. I know that’s not a great place to be but I think friendships based on more than just what you think about certain issues are pretty vital in life. Most debate on the net doesn’t allow for that. We vilify people if they hold opinions that are different to ours in ways I’m not sure we would in our flesh and blood relationships.
If someone posts stuff we agree with, be it about politics, parenting, some aspect of our faith or what flavour of ice cream they like I find it easy wholesale to like and revere that person. But if they post stuff that I don’t agree with I find myself not liking them, seeing them as strange because of their view on this one thing. This can change if they give more of their personality with this view – eg if they show kindness to those who disagree with them or humor or wonderful writing. But it is hard to see past the Thing I Disagree With.
In flesh and blood relationships it’s easier to see the whole person, to find other reasons to be friends, to learn the art of understanding why they might say what they say and loving them in the midst of that. It’s harder to pigeon hole people and much easier to find out all the nuances of what each other actually think. It’s easier to allow for change in thoughts and ideas over time.
I know I’m hypersensitive when it comes to this stuff though. I’d rather do all I can to maintain friendships and can’t stand disagreement if I think the friendship might suffer. It’s not all that healthy to be like that as I risk not saying what I really think on stuff that actually matters. I do however think the amount of stuff worth breaking friendship or even just the ability to talk in a real way with someone is fairly limited.
Risk is a necessary part of friendship, it enables us to be consistent human beings, not just saying what will get us liked. It is risky to say what we really think about stuff especially if it’s not a popular mainstream opinion. We should treat that risk with generosity and warmth. I’m gradually learning to say what I really think without fear in some friendships but it’s a hard road and we could make it a whole lot easier for each other to be honest.
I’m also aware views may change. It’s much harder to express nuance and change over the limited space of the Internet. Much easier to get labelled as one type of person in one type of tribe (either of a faith tribe, parenting tribe, music tribe). I think I’m just saying it must be more helpful to be generous to each other, to seek to love and understand rather than vilify or reject and it’s probably a whole lot easier to do that offline.
Any ideas on how to improve this situation and how we can be more generous to each other online?