Rules of Engagement: Keeping Facebook “Friend”ly

Today I’m asking for restraint.

This is unusual for me. I often have candy-colored hair. I’m 42 and planning out my next tattoo. The sides of my head are shaved–before that, I had dreadlocks. I’ve worn a tutu and striped tights…to church. My laugh is loud and once, when talking about a sensitive subject, I told the group I was with that I was going to be subtle. When I finished talking, the friend sitting next to me said, “At what point, exactly, was that subtle?”

I don’t normally do restraint.

But today, I sat down at my computer and said, “Lord, I need to post something today and I have no idea what to write. Will you please show me?” And five minutes later, I came across this post from my friend Aaron Bekkerus on Facebook:

I think it’s interesting that so many complain about our polarized government and country, yet even amongst my Facebook friends nobody wants to give an inch on any particular issue. Comments are either an echo chamber or senseless bickering. I think it would be wise to acknowledge that our friends and colleagues often have some reasonable rationale for a viewpoint on either side. With that understanding we could set about fine tuning our great country.

He has a great point. Facebook proliferates with memes (a word I didn’t know until two months ago when my daughter used it), video clips, and diatribes. It’s not even a debate; no one is trying to win. We’re just trying to be the loudest, the most obnoxious, the cleverest and most shaming.

Dialogue is always better than debate. The winners of debates aren’t chosen by who’s right; they are decided based on who was more skilled at arguing. Let’s just all agree: some people are really good at arguing.

This is not a skill we should be admiring. This is “might makes right” mentality and it’s wrong. It’s wrong when governments do it and it’s wrong when individuals do it.

On the other hand, dialogue searches for truth and understanding. It doesn’t have a time-limit, and it never seeks to “win”. It’s curious and open and based on facts. Disagreements aren’t always resolved, and people still get heated and emotional, but (unless we allow our dialogues to mutate into debates) no one leaves feeling defeated.

Now, back to restraint. When it comes to sensitive issues, Facebook is not the place for dialogue–or debate, for that matter.

Respectful dialogue is possible in person ONLY, where we can read and respond to the nonverbal signals of the people we’re talking with, and where looking at their faces reminds us that we love these people and want to understand them and treat them well. It’s only in person that our sense of relationship can outweigh our selfish desires to be right. It’s only when we have the physical presence of people that we normally like and respect that we can remember: oh yeah! I like talking with these people! She gave me a ride that one time, when my car ran out of gas. And he babysits my kids for free whenever I ask. And, for pete’s sake, I’m the godmother of their daughter!

It’s only in person that we can take others more seriously than we take ourselves.

So, please: use restraint on social media. If you must talk politics, then, you know: talk politics.

No one’s mind was ever changed by something they read on Facebook.

Except, maybe, how they think about the person who posted it.


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