“She values her political position more than she loves our friendship.”
“She continues to talk about politics when I change the subject. I can’t take it anymore.”
“We’ve always been friends. Why is this the end of a long friendship?”
These statements were made by a client in a recent coaching session. She was distressed because she had recently engaged in politically-charged phone conversations with a childhood friend and godmother to one of her children. When the client, I’ll call her Lee, tried to change the subject, her friend persisted, leaving Lee frustrated and upset. Finally, when her friend said she’d contact Lee’s sons to talk to them about how she felt and to “tell them who to vote for,” Lee set a boundary, declaring that there would be no more political discussions and requesting that her sons be left out of it. Although Lee reached out to her following the conversation, her friend refused to take the calls.
It is not surprising that four months of quarantining, stifling hot weather, heated social discourse, and political unrest have put an additional strain on the once-simple interactions, often rendering them stormy or unpleasant. Given the circumstances, these sensitive discussions may lead to unsympathetic interpretations and assumptions about a person and their values. As a result, arguments and misunderstandings have become commonplace—both in face-to-face interactions and on social media. I can’t even begin to describe to you what’s going on in one of my son’s university parent’s Facebook page. I am personally shocked at what I’m seeing.
Does it have to be this way? Of course not! Would it surprise you if I said that I have a very good friend of 18 years with whom I have never once discussed politics? I have no idea which way she votes (or if she votes at all), and I really don’t care. The same is true of another friend that I see almost every weekend. At the same time, I have had some very informative and calm political discussions with friends on opposite ends of the political spectrum. How?
The key is we are not invested in trying to change the other person’s mind.
Before you speak or post on social media, reflect on what your intention is. How respectful is what you’re saying? Is your intention to judge others or to change someone’s mind? Good luck with that last one! Think about the following questions:
- Is your post a positive reflection of how you want others to view you? Reflect upon how you may be coming across.
- How worthwhile is it for you to make your point? Are you willing to lose friends or respect because of it? Are you taking a judgmental stance? If you still feel compelled to post something, ensure that you’re approaching the situation in a constructive manner as opposed to simply sowing division.
I’m sure you’ve all seen posts or tweets that say something along the lines of, “If you support X, unfollow me now.” “If you believe in ZX, unfollow me now.” This feels like posturing but think about it. Do you want friends who think exactly like you do or have the same perspective and views? You may, and that is your choice. But consider this: Perhaps this is a friend who brought you dinner when you were ill or had just given childbirth. Someone who doesn’t have the same political ideas may be a person who has shown you unconditional love and support. Do you really want this person out of your life? It’s obviously your choice entirely. You may have drawn a line in the sand about what beliefs you will choose to tolerate in your friends. But ask yourself: are you reflecting values you want others to show you in return? If you are, then all the power to you.
Personally, I love and enjoy all of my Twitter followers and Facebook friends. I value diversity of culture, thought, and background immensely. Through social media, I have made friends with people I would never have come across in “real life.” I treasure learning about each person’s differences, ideas, and principles. These interactions can be enlightening for me, and I learn from everyone—even if we disagree.
Strive to view ideological differences as opportunities to reflect and learn about another person’s way of thinking. However, if you feel yourself becoming overstressed or upset, it is important to also honor your values. This is especially true if another person is employing hate speech or prejudice. If you feel your principles are being dishonored, you have every right to make necessary changes to ensure your physical and emotional wellbeing.
So, how should we interact with friends, family members, and strangers on social media in a responsible, respectful manner?
Here are some helpful tips to navigate 2020!
- You can choose not to engage or talk about sensitive subjects with family and friends or on social media. You can choose zero engagement. It is possible.
- Consider this: do you think anyone’s mind has been changed by reading your Facebook post or your Tweet? Not likely—but, at the same time, you have the right to post almost anything you choose, so long as you are aware that people won’t necessarily agree with you. That’s their right, too.
- Set limits with yourself as well as others. Just like Lee set a boundary with her friend, you can, Political or otherwise upsetting discussions are not necessary to sustain a friendship. See #1.
- Remember, if you own a business or advertise your business, your social media presence may influence customers’ perceptions of your business. Reflect on how your post serves you or your business before posting.
- Set limits on media exposure if you find yourself becoming upset. How is it serving you to constantly read things that you find unpleasant? Personally, I have decided to turn off notifications from all of the posts on my son’s university parents’ FB page. I may miss out on useful information, but the negative energy from witnessing parents arguing endlessly was not healthy for me.
- Avoid unnecessary judgment of other people and their opinions. That’s it.
- Lastly, realize that words, people, and opinions do not have the power to “make” you upset. You are in charge of how you react or respond. It’s your thoughts that inform your feelings and thereby lead to your reaction, response, or action. It’s really that simple. It’s not always easy, but it’s the truth.
We are all on this planet together. Some people view us all as one, while others prefer to emphasize each person’s individuality. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this:
YOUR WORDS. YOUR BEHAVIOR. YOU.
This month, ask yourself: What am I doing to make this world a better place for all humans? Ponder upon this every day, morning, and night. Together, we can work this out.
What are your thoughts? I always appreciate your feedback!
Do you want to talk about how to manage your emotions in a healthy and productive manner?