When I set up a Facebook account and started blogging back in fall of 2008, I knew from the beginning that as an aspiring YA author, I’d have to be careful about what I posted. Swearing, sexual references, and joking about drugs or alcohol could potentially alienate my audience. I also elected not to say anything overtly religious or political. While others staked out their territory on Facebook by filling in the blanks for religion and political party, I left mine blank. A friend of mine did me one better, and her response is the best I’ve seen. For “politics” she put “just as private as my religion,” and for religion she put, “just as private as my politics.”
For a long time I felt a little uncomfortable about my stance of neutrality. After all, if I have a belief, shouldn’t I own it? But I’ve mulled it over a lot lately, and I think my position makes sense. And not just from a business perspective. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying people shouldn’t voice their beliefs publicly. That’s their right, and I understand the need to feel like part of a community. I just wonder if they realize the full ramifications of what they’re doing. Do they really want people to make snap judgments about them based solely on who they voted for in the last election or how they choose to worship? Is anyone’s personality really that cut and dried?
Probably every one of us has at least one friend or family member with drastically different religious or political views. And yet we accept them in spite of it. This is because we got to know the whole person, not just a single label. No individual is as simplistic as the stereotype of one group. We’re all a wild and crazy hodgepodge. Even within the walls of a single congregation of a single denomination of a single religion, there will be vastly different takes on dogma. And each member of each splinter group of each political party has her own nuanced take on various policies. I have friends on both sides of the political fence and of various spiritualities. When I think of what I’d have missed out on by jumping to conclusions, I’m so glad I sat back quietly and watched long enough to discover who these folks really are.
It only makes sense that people on social networks want to connect with those who share similar beliefs, and Facebook makes this particularly easy with its groups. But lately I’ve noticed that the names of some of these groups have become increasingly controversial—even insulting. They seem to be titled specifically to get a dig in against the opposing viewpoint. And why? Just so people can feel all buddy-buddy and superior? But at what cost?
I suppose it’s human nature to have an us vs. them mentality. It probably comes from our very early days, when anyone outside our own tribe was a threat to our existence. But just because we’re wired that way doesn’t mean we can’t override the circuitry. And really, why are these subjects so important, anyway? Think about all the TV shows and movies you’ve watched in the past week. Of all the books you’ve read. Chances are, you couldn’t pigeonhole the majority of the characters into any particular religion or political party. And it doesn’t really matter, does it? It doesn’t affect how you care about them.
For a moment, consider Harry Potter. Of all the things we know about him, of all the things that are important to his character, the one thing that makes absolutely no difference is whether his political leanings were liberal or conservative. Just something to think about.
(This post was cross-posted from the Indelibles blog.)