“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words.” –Roland Barthes
Dear Facebook Friends:
This week I’ve read a lot of emotion-packed pleas on Facebook (and Twitter). From both sides of the political aisle, I’ve read about: why we need gun control and why gun control would be the end of American freedom; about the threat of radical Islam and the danger of painting one religion with too broad a brush stroke; I’ve read that we should pray for those murdered and injured in Orlando and that offering our prayers is hollow and meaningless; I’ve read people blaming, shaming, and pointing metaphorical fingers and I’ve read people offering love, support and forgiveness. I’m sure you’ve seen them all, as well.
A number of the things I’ve read have been titled, “An Open Letter To…” This is not one of those. First, because one thing that has struck me this week – the long week of anger over the Stanford rape case, the gunning down of a young performer, the Orlando mass shooting, and the small child grabbed by an alligator at a Disney resort – is that we spend way too much time casting our fellow beings as “The Other”. Most of the postings labeled “open letters” are thinly veiled lectures directed at rather than to an imagined and stereotyped other. Second, I’m addressing this letter to my Facebook friends: those people with whom, in one way or another, I am connected off-line as well as on (though I’m sharing it with you, too!)
Here’s why I’m writing. A few nights ago, my dear friend (whom I love and know to be a truly good person) said in a four-way messenger conversation, “I hope you all don’t equate me with a mass murderer because we don’t see eye to eye, politically.” While I had never considered blaming my friend, it occurred to me that I have many friends and loved ones whose views differ from my own – and who might share my friend’s concern. Just as I have many friends and loved ones who have suffered at the hands of prejudice, discrimination and harmful policies. (Some people will identify with both groups.) The many cultural and political issues we face are complex and deeply painful – and our society is far from having it all figured out.
So I want to make some promises to you as we move forward into the next months of what, I fear, will be an increasingly divided and divisive climate in America. Not only are we in the midst of a heated political election season, we are also engulfed in waves of global civil upheaval and unrest, and we are facing – with our brothers and sisters the world over – the very real consequences of climate change. In the midst of all of this, I want to make the following promises to you:
- I will own and manage my emotions. I understand that I am not free from emotional response, and that sometimes my emotion overwhelms my desire to be thoughtful and kind; therefore, I will consider very carefully before I hit the button that publishes or reposts something about world or national events. And if my emotion has held sway and I’ve posted something unkind, I will own that and apologize. However, I will call out politicians and celebrities – people intentionally in the public eye – whose words or actions are insupportable to me, along with those whom I believe to be right. Fair warning: this includes Donald Drumpf, whom I consider to be in the insupportable category.
- I will not rant arrogantly at you as if you are not intelligent, educated, thinking persons. I just read a post last night which spoke down to all readers, ending with the comment, “if you don’t agree with everything I’ve outlined, you are an idiot.” There is a difference between posts which state a different opinion than mine and those that rant arrogantly at anyone who disagrees with their view. I will strive to discern this difference.
- I may type deliberately inflammatory responses to your posts but I will delete them before I hit send.
- If I fail in any of these areas, and you point it out to me, I will not respond with knee-jerk defensiveness. First and foremost, I will appreciate that you brought it to my attention, especially if you did so with generosity of spirit. Then, I will try to see it from your perspective, allowing that I am often wrong, and my communication regularly imperfect.
- I will engage in debate as long as it remains respectful, even if it is emotionally charged I won’t always specifically invite debate – I have some brave friends who do so, and I am in awe of their willingness to follow these invitations with open and thoughtful responses. When there is debate, I reserve the right to delete anything on my own timeline if I feel it is inappropriate – including (and probably most often) my own comments.