Facebook and the Challenge of Listening

I don’t know about you, but I’m experiencing a profound weariness from the politically divisive climate for which we in this country are currently living.  It doesn’t matter which “side” you find yourself, there is a palpable tension about the other which leaves many of us on-edge and anxious.  This isn’t the first incidence of this tension in our country’s history, to be sure.  Our United States have weathered many a political storm,  but it’s the first for me.  And being one who DOES NOT LIKE TENSION, it has been a personal struggle.  Consider that I’m also a pastor and the situation only gets worse.  I often find myself seeking tools to lighten the mood or find common ground.  On the surface, Facebook would seem to be the perfect venue, right?

Think again.

It goes without saying that I enjoy Facebook.  I enjoy connecting with friends far and wide,  sharing in signficant life events such as anniversaries, vacations, and birthdays, and learning from news articles and pieces shared from various outlets. I enjoy making people laugh by sharing my family foibles and making fun of my lame attempts at coolness or dieting failures.  I enjoy sharing the various events of my congregation, hoping that it increases the visibilty of our church and encourages locals to visit. 

But it’s become strikingly clear that Facebook is currently NOT the venue for attempting to foster meaningful political dialogue.  On more than one occassion my attempts at carving out a middle-ground have been struck down by strident keyboard warriors either anxious to grandstand with their self-described superior views, or a juvenile refusal to engage in  open-minded civil discourse.  I’ve mourned many a well-intended post which quickly devolved into a petty, nasty, and sometimes personal argument.  I’ve been frustrated by meaningul threads derailed by individuals who seem more interested in espousing their views than participating in a conversation.

It’s a shame really.  Because Facebook could be a productive venue for engaging one another, a forum to exhange ideas and provide opportunities to listen to one another’s perspectives, and draw closer.  It could be dynamic instrument for social and political change.  But instead, at least from my perspective, it is often simply an avenue for folks to be affirmed by those who share their views and alienate those who don’t.  It is often simply an arena to stoke our narcissism.

Let’s not allow that.  I encourage everyone who’s taking a second to read this blog to be more intentional about Facebook engagement.  Try to listen deeply to another’s viewpoint, especially if it’s only different from your own, and seek first understanding.  Behind these posts are real human beings- flesh and blood, whose views, however alien they might be from yours, are usually born from an honest, caring, and sincere place.  

What you deem racist and (insert whatever)-phobic, could be honest ignorance. 

What you deem objective, could be another person’s subjective.

So perhaps with listening we can identify areas of agreement and use that as a springboard to work together to educate one another.

Look, I admire both sides’ attempts at prophetic witness.  Truly I do.  And I admire the passion behind the posts, whatever their intent.  I recognize we are all coming at this from varying points of privilege (or even oppression). 

But we are never, ever going to arrive at a place of peace unless we start listening to one another and engaging in civil discourse.  We are never going to dismantle these walls which divide us until we start working together.

And it starts with listening.  

Even if it’s on Facebook.