Monday, May 21, 2012

The Jackass Whisperer

I love politics, love sharing my opinion, and I spend a lot of time on social networks.   A couple of years ago, I filled my facebook page with articles and angry comments about conservative politicians I didn't like and shared my opinions on many hot button issues.  

I'd argue a point until I was blue in the face and keep going.   It took my wife to point out that perhaps this wasn't the most popular thing, especially among people who only knew me a little bit and could base a lot of their opinion of me on these screeds.    So I toned it WAY back, saving my comments only for things that affected me strongly, and then trying to word it in such a way that I offended as few people as possible.

I moved my posts to another forum in which people were deeply devoted to discussing politics.   There I was able to engage in my love of arguing and politics, pitting myself against people with polar opposite views from mine.    And that was fun for awhile, until I realized how much my blood pressure went up in dealing with those same people.

Then, a few weeks ago the subject of gay marriage came up back on facebook.  I have some strong opinions on the topic, primarily that I don't think two consenting adults of the same gender should be denied the rights my wife and I have.   I don't think that gay marriage ruins the sanctity of my or anyone else's marriage.

I posted a statement that stated these views without attacking others.     A few hours later a facebook friend posted something that attacked the people who were posting statements like mine as "trying to be cool".   Then, a few hours later, another facebook friend who I was close to in high school posted a comment that "yeah, it seems as though some people just want to show how enlightened and cool they are."

I'm sure I'm not the only person on facebook who has read comments like these and had the social network paranoia of "they're talking about me!"  And I was angry.    How could anyone doubt my sincerity?

Then a few hours later someone I've known FOREVER posted a comment "no wonder Obama's for gay marriage, he married a man".   And five or six people I know and like clicked "like".   I was so angry I wanted to do something serious, like unfriend them.

Even though all of this made me angry, I bit my tongue.  But then I read a post from a minister I had praised a few weeks earlier for not being divisive or judgmental in his posts.  This time HE was attacking gay marriage.   So I crafted him a message where I explained how hurtful it was when churches treated gay people like this.   And we're now engaged in a conversation in which he's so completely wrong and I just can't convince him.

And then.....

I saw the quote above on facebook.    "Do not try to win over the haters.  You are not the jackass whisperer."  

This caused me to step back and start looking at my own postings on social networks.   How much time had I spent in the past several on finely crafted arguments that would fall on deaf ears?   How much back and forth had gone on in the guise of defending a position that I would never convince someone of?    How much time had I spent getting angry at people who exist as "friends" only on a website, and not as a permanent part of my life?   And how much of that anger was really justified?   When was I the jackass whisperer, and when was I the jackass?

So slowly I'm trying to change my ways.   I cannot tell you how many times I've written a comment and deleted it immediately without posting, or immediately after posting.   I've tried to develop a rule not to comment more than twice on a single post defending my position, and not to respond to those trying to goad me into an argument.    I'm trying to be better about my desire to be right vs. my desire to understand how others feel.    I'm still not perfect, but at least I'm working on being less of a jackass and less of a jackass whisperer.