Engage Or Observe? 3 things to remember when discussing politics online

I don’t know about you but I’m worn out, wrung out and hung out to dry since the inauguration.

Opinions, judgements, and facts and (ahem) – “alternative facts” – are flying around social media all the time, but particularly now when truth seems to be a casualty of today’s political scene. It’s difficult not to get hit with one or two of of the opinions and judgements, and hard not to jump in to the fray to set everyone straight if you feel you know the truth. People are criticizing those who are supportive of our new President, and people are questioning the validity of the Women’s March on Washington, that inspired millions of women around the globe to hold “sister” marches. And there is fake news and misinformation on both sides, causing very difficult conversations and resulting in strained friendships.

I’m not immune. I’ve had to work hard to quell my opinionated views, especially when there are issues I care deeply about being disrespected and mocked, or when something is posted that just isn’t true. I’ve learned some things – usually the hard way – about engaging online politically. The biggest one is: DON’T DO IT.

That’s right. Just don’t. Save the political discussions for in person and over a cuppa. Not online where anyone can jump in and say whatever they like, sometimes resulting in a bruised heart. It can get out of hand really fast.

It can make even the most centered of us feel unstable and weak.

And since “don’t do it” isn’t really practical (because, let’s face it, we all do it) we need to ask some questions of ourselves:

Who are are these people and am I one of them?
Am I someone that is hurtful and mocking, believing those who read what I post will laugh and agree, forgetting that sometimes there are people I care about that I unknowingly just made fun of? I generally don’t do this, because I’m a stickler for respectful communication and I have a natural tendency to see all sides of an issue and respect them. But it’s a good idea to double check yourself, and make sure you aren’t a bit of a troll when riled.

How can I learn to observe and stay out of the mess? How can I learn when to step in and when to just keep scrolling past? 
This can be tricky. Mostly, we have to decide how we want to spend our energy and if it’s worth it when we do. I’ve learned to take a long pause, and really investigate what is going on for me if I want to jump into a controversial online discussion. It’s best to listen first. To ask questions, get information…consider it like an interview. What I’ve noticed however is that others jump in so fast, an in-depth interview to learn about why the poster is asking about something, or feeling a certain way, is near on impossible. (Hence, avoid online political discussions whenever possible.)

But on the assumption you’re going to engage…..Here are are three things to keep in mind as you participate in social media commentary:


1. Is the original poster a friend or a stranger?
It can make a difference if we know the person or other people commenting verses if they are anonymous unknowns. Depending on your own personal life, it might be good to keep silent with friends and family and speak your mind with strangers.  On the other hand, it could be better to let it all out with those you trust will still love you and who may listen to you no matter what, and skip the unnecessary potential drama with strangers.

Bottom line, whenever you engage, it costs you energy and effort,  pause to consider where you are spending your currency and if you will get any returns that make it worthwhile.


2.  Consider the topic.
Is it a topic that makes a difference to a group of people or a person? Or is it an opinion-disguised-as-fact that if corrected wouldn’t really make a difference to many people? It’s a case of “choose your battle” here. Slow down and decide what is your goal? Is it important to be picky and detailed about the meaning of the pink hats (which could vary widely) or more important to spend energy on correcting a fake news story regarding human rights issues or climate change?

Bottom line: If you think you can help someone understand something that you feel is really vital, maybe it’s worth concentrating on that as long as everyone can remain respectful, rather than worry too much about details that aren’t as important.


3. Is the person asking for and wanting information? Genuinely?
Sometimes people say they do want information, but really just want to hear from those that agree with them to justify their own perspective. For example, someone that says, “I’m still confused about what the Women’s March was for.” Didn’t really ask a question. Keep in mind the poster could do a google search to find out more, so it’s likely they are just looking for opinions that match their own, or something to argue with. Before commenting your answer to a non-question, consider asking if the person is sincere in their desire to hear from an opposing view, and then before launching into a lecture (no one likes to be lectured), determine if passing on good articles will suffice so you don’t have to involve yourself with the debate if it’s not helpful to do so.

Bottom line: If you do get involved, listen to other’s opinions, don’t counter them. Stick to facts, provide supporting articles from non-partisan sources, and only give your own opinion when asked for.

And a final thing. If someone is being hateful or clearly isn’t curious about your thoughts, back out.  There is no win here. Let it go. My experience has shown – and I bet yours has too – that most people do not want to change their views (including ourselves!) and won’t do so with debate.

That leaves us with a deep sadness if we tune in to what’s underneath the desire to change someone’s mind. That sadness is important. That’s what Living Deeply is all about, tuning into the underneath feeling. Feeling misunderstood by someone that is hurtful when they express themselves creates distance. Which creates fear – because at our core, we are all needing and wanting connection and understanding from others.

So start there, with the sadness, and listen to self.  What do you need to feel centered? What does your body need to feel nourished? What might you do to fill that need for connection? Do you have a community of like-minded people to go to? Can you go for a walk and fill up with the air and the trees and sounds of birds and connect to nature?

Be the change. Listen and ask questions first, speak only if you feel your opinion is wanted and will be held with respect. Learn to connect deeply with yourself, and find ways to nourish that connection, and remember every single one of us is on our own path. We all have our own history, experiences, values we were taught, and our own understandings of what’s right. We can’t change others, we can only change ourselves. Be the peace you long for in the discussions with others.


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