When I am working, as a general rule, I spend a significant amount of time with people who share a lot of similar views to my own. It’s really, really nice.
There are variances, of course, but most of my coworkers believe in some of the same core concepts that I hold dear; there are no arguments about things like sexism or racism or equality or poverty or harm reduction. When those subjects come up, we can easily talk about them without angst or anger.
We come at things from different angles, at times, but the very core of the discussion is one of agreement. Our disagreements are akin to having different favourite colours; no one is right in choosing blue as their favourite in place of orange. We learn from each other, I think, because we have different experiences personally and as a result of the work that we do and because we’re open to discussing them as much as we’re able.
Outside of my work circle, and in my personal life, things are not much different. The majority of my friends share similar core values and viewpoints to my own – again, with some variances or minor disagreements – and, I suppose, that’s part of why they’re my friends. My husband and I have very similar thoughts on social issues. My kids are still in the exploration side of things but are receptive to the topics we discuss around the dinner table.
At times, I have needed to defend my viewpoints to people in my community. During workshops or presentations, I speak openly about my work and, of course, I encounter people who don’t agree with some of my core values and the principles of what I do. Sometimes I’m working with those people in a manner where I’m there only to present the info and leave. Other times, if someone is open-minded enough for a discussion, we can talk about why we disagree on those issues. But, when all is said and done, people walk away and, for the most part, I don’t see them again or I rarely run into them. Either way, if I’ve been professional in my interactions, there’s no negativity when we meet up again. I’ve often been pleasantly surprised to hear people say that they’ve been thinking more about something I’ve said and that they have questions or have somewhat softened their stance on particular issues.
I believe, very much, that education is the way to overcome a lot of the bullshit in the world. Whenever I have the opportunity to teach someone about some of the things I’ve learnt – the things that I know – I’ll leap on it. This includes discussions about poverty and addictions and sexism and racism and mental illness and.. well, a lot of other things that people who aren’t in my field of work may not have had reason to explore. Subjects that are fraught with tension and fears and misunderstandings.
Bear with me while I sort of change subjects for a moment, ok?
Having semi-recently pared things down, I have 300-ish friends on Facebook. Some of them are people I’ve met through my professional life (my current boss, for example, and my coworkers) and some are from my time at college. A few are from university, some are from previous jobs, some are from high school and a few are from elementary school. I have relatives, blog readers (hello!) and neighbours on my friends list. There are members of my kids’ family, people I’ve met online in various communities, and a few friends-of-friends that I met through Facebook interactions.
It goes without saying that many of these people have different opinions from my own. In some cases, I can observe and learn things from those other opinions – about religion, for example, or about the cultures of other countries. I am learning about different political perspectives and about different lifestyles. I’m learning what it’s like to participate in different sports or careers that I had never considered for myself. All of this is good.
Shortly before Christmas, however, I began to struggle greatly with a LOT of bullshit on Facebook. There were long-winded diatribes about how “Christmas is Christmas and how DARE you try to take that way from me by saying ‘happy holidays’!” People that I’ve known for years began writing status updates that were blatantly xenophobic – including the age-old statement of, “If you don’t like the way we do things in Canada, you should go back to your own country” and “In Canada we celebrate Christmas and if you don’t celebrate it than you don’t belong here!” and other awful crap along those lines.
My first inclination was to speak up. Until I noticed that the person writing the awful statements was getting 20+ “likes” on their statement – meaning that they, just like me, have friends who share similar viewpoints. On my own wall, I posted a few little things about my own holiday-related feelings – that inclusion is a more Canadian value than “Merry Christmas” and that no one was trying to ‘take away’ Christmas from those who celebrate it and for whom it has meaning. I didn’t push it very far, though.
Sidenote: there is no “War on Christmas”. No one is trying to take away YOUR right to celebrate whatever holiday – religious or otherwise – that you choose to celebrate. Why does the idea of someone celebrating a different holiday make you so angry? How is it offensive to you that your government, funded and elected by everyone in the community, tries to include all the members of the community?
(And let’s not even address the fact that those same governments don’t really acknowledge other holidays – religious or cultural – in any meaningful way during the month of December or otherwise. It really is just lip service but, at least, we’re making some progress on that.)
I ended up mostly staying quiet because I was so angry that I couldn’t find coherent ways to express myself that wouldn’t immediately put people on the defensive. No one learns while they’re being defensive.
After the holidays, things calmed down. People went back to posting pictures of their kids or talking about their job or detailing what they ate for breakfast. All good.
But.. lately I’ve seen postings like this:
Good god. Where do I even start? The person posting it made some comments about “SO TRUE!” and their friends chimed in and all I can think is: where’s your compassion? Sure, it’s an American posting it, but it’s not far off from what some of my Canadian FB friends have posted at times.
I don’t have the inclination or time to research the stats; for the sake of this ‘discussion’ let’s assume they’re reasonably accurate, though I suspect they’re not.
Why do you suppose those 12 million illegal immigrants are in the United States right now? Is it because they want to live in a country where they have to be hidden, can’t work openly, can’t access services or health care, are often supporting families in other countries (and are thousands of miles away from their children and spouses), are treated awfully by anyone who does employ them (because that employer knows they won’t complain about mistreatment and low wages and long hours) and where they’re openly hated by many of the citizens? Maybe there’s more to it than 12 million people from elsewhere woke up one morning, came to the US for that delicious free-ride you think you’re providing to them, and now they’re living the lap of luxury while you pay for it with your taxes? Maybe?
Those 3 million crackheads.. why do you suppose they’re smoking crack (or using any other drug, for that matter)? Is it because they woke up one morning and decided that they wanted a life of addiction and all the mess that usually accompanies that life? They decided that the best idea EVER was to lose so much of what they held dear and replace it all with drugs? Do you actually think that anyone chooses this? Or that it’s such a great life that people don’t want to break away from it? Are crackheads having the time of their lives?
The 42 million unemployable people on food stamps.. I don’t even know what that means. If they’re actually ‘unemployable’ there are two reasons and the first is that they have health issues of some sort that make it impossible for them to work. Should we just take them out back and shoot them? Tell them to starve because they were unlucky enough to have that health problem? Or are we talking about unemployable people due to the shift in economy and the number of people out of jobs because the government and financial systems fucked them over? People who will require retraining, perhaps, before they’re employable again? Should we also shoot them because, again, they were unlucky and don’t deserve to eat?
2 million people in prison.. ohdeargod, are you kidding me? I agree, to some extent, that your tax money shouldn’t be funding that bullshit because most of those people shouldn’t be incarcerated in the first damned place. Here’s where we could talk about racism and outdated, biased laws and governments that create prisons-for-profit and all sorts of injustices. But people who are incarcerated deserve food and shelter and all the other basic human rights, regardless of why they’re locked up – and, seriously, most of those people shouldn’t be in there and goddammit, why would you want to make that worse for them? Pay your fucking taxes and complain to your government officials about what they’re doing with that money when it comes to prisons.
535 fools in the house and senate.. Did you vote? Do you write letters to these people? Do you protest? If not, well, you’re an idiot and, quite frankly, the IRS is just extracting an Idiot Tax from you on this one. You deserve to fund shit you don’t like if you don’t try to change things.
But here’s what it all boils down to: fear and lack of education.
In all of the cases above, the person who agrees with this is under the impression that they – whoever they are – could never be desperate enough to flee to another country. They could never be addicted. They could never be unemployed (for any length of time, at least) and they could never be incarcerated.
And in every single case, they’re wrong. It just hasn’t happened to them yet. I’m not surprised when I hear people talk about how “welfare” is a bad idea and how it’s full of people scamming the system and living a life of luxury while ‘the rest of us go and work our asses off to pay for it’. We push thoughts of our own vulnerability aside. We think we’re ‘better than’ and we think we’re ‘smarter than’. We assume it’s a failing on the part of that ‘other’ that causes them to need help. WE will never need help – THEY will always need it.
I wish I could tell everyone who believes the bullshit – noted above and elsewhere – to spend some time thinking hard about it. To think deeply about how they got to where they are now; think about the luck, the help, the ‘right place, right time’ of all of it. Think, too, about how it could all come undone.
And I wish I could find a way to facilitate conversations between the people who agree with the bullshit and the people who live the reality of it – an honest discussion where people put aside their defensiveness and where no one gets offended and where questions and answers flow openly.
I haven’t posted any of this on Facebook for a variety of reasons. I don’t have the time or energy to devote to rebutting 80 arguments from friends-of-friends who leap up and start shrieking. I don’t have the time or energy to spend endless hours on Facebook in general. I know that people don’t learn unless they’re open to learning – and that someone who posts bullshit on Facebook isn’t looking for anything other than agreement in that forum. I don’t have a relationship, with some of these people, that would allow me to ‘educate’ on some of the issues.
It’s tempting to “unfriend” all of the people who post bullshit. To step back and say, “Holy shit, no thank you!” and hang out with my like-minded friends – the people who don’t make me want to start kicking things. I have to keep reminding myself that this is educational for me – that, by listening and watching and reading, I can find ways to understand what they fear most and use that whenever it’s appropriate to educate people. When I do my workshops about harm reduction, for example, or when I’m talking to people about why we need to increase the amount of social assistance (“welfare”) we pay to people, I can better address those issues if I know why others oppose them.
But that doesn’t make it any easier to listen and watch. It doesn’t make it easier to bite my tongue.