Playing it Close to the Vest

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.)

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15 Responses to Playing it Close to the Vest

  1. Barb says:

    I’ve learned there are some people who thrive on drama. And while I think it’s important in writing, I don’t care for it in my personal life. So these folks who comb fb looking for differences or sameness sometimes enjoy searching for reasons to throw stones. I guess it gives them some sort of security?

    I’m also surprised at the amount of information people spew about their lives. From the number of diaper changes they’ve made in a day to postings of dental reports. I’m hoping that the pendulum will swing the other way and we’ll move away from sharing the nitty details of life. Hopefully the term “too much information” will return to our culture.


    • Lisa Nowak says:

      You’re probably right. It probably does give them security. And the drama makes their lives more interesting. But as strongly as I might feel about some subjects, it seems to do more harm than good to do battle over them on Facebook.


  2. Roxie Matthews says:

    Generalizing and polarizing are shortcuts in dealing with life. Treating every single person you encounter as an individual is a lot of work. Identifying with a particular religion or political party is only a label. You have to study the whole label, though. You might grab the bottle with the big red A on the label because you want Aspirins, only to find out you grabbed the Ant Poison.


  3. Harry Potter was a flagrant, pot-smoking atheist. Duh!

    Kidding. I respect your viewpoint about hiding your viewpoint. Things always heat up in election years anyway. Smart move!


  4. poetrose says:

    I had actually not given this a thought and was impressed with yours. I usually have no idea about my friends religion, politics, whatever. I could not tell you if my best friend since 1967 is a Democrat, Republican or whatever. We have always avoided discussing politics! I just see her as a caring, kind, fun, dependable person. That is what matters to me.


  5. Angela Brown says:

    I haven’t set up an author FB page, just my personal one, so that one is a bit different. Although, even on it I keep my comments fairly neutral on the political on the political front. Religion-wise, I handle as any human should – or so I thought it should be done until I saw the way so many others went about it – with dignity. I’m not sure if political or religious info is part of the inquiry for setting up an author page, but I would agree in keeping a neutral stance. My story about vampires, fairies or any other paranormal aspect has nothing to do with a leaning in any religious or political way. Now, for those who write specifically with those angles in mind, I’d expect a definite show of – whatever. But as for me, I like your take, Lisa, and your friend’s.


    • Lisa Nowak says:

      Angela, I don’t think they ask about politics and religion on author pages, just the personal ones. But most of us have so many FB friends (in the hundreds or thousands) and among those friends might be people we want to impress, such as agents, editors, and other authors (at least for those on the traditional path). You never know who you’re going to offend by ranting about some political policy or making some blanket statement about religion. I do think there are times when politics or religion can be part of a person’s platform (say you’re writing Christian romances or you’re a political talk show host) but mostly those topics seem to be something to avoid.


  6. Alice Lynn says:

    A thoughtful essay on how or why keeping one’s political or religious view points private can be so important. Personally, I find it can be a struggle to be too private when things that touch me deeply bubble up; on the other hand I honor differences among my many friends, neighbors, family members and other associates. While I might wonder at times how they can hold opinions that seem to fly contrary to the facts as I see them, I also understand that they may have the same take on my own view point. But people are than labels. We shouldn’t be locked into a stereotype because of beliefs based on experiences and education we have not shared.


    • Lisa Nowak says:

      Isn’t it funny, Alice, how you can look at someone you respect and wonder how such an intelligent person can have such crazy ideas? I’m with you, though. I’ve often thought those friends must be thinking the same thing about me. What’s funny is when two people are 180 degrees apart politically on an issue even though they basically both have the same thoughts about it—they just see two drastically different ways of achieving the same result.


  7. Alice Lynn says:

    Sorry; that second to the last sentence should read: “But people are more than labels.”


  8. macrush53 says:

    I so agree with you, Lisa. I try not to express my feelings about politics or religion one way or another because I hate labels. I have ( have always had) friends with vastly different views. Wouldn’t it be a boring world if we all believed the same thing?


    • Lisa Nowak says:

      It certainly would, Jone. That reminds me of a friend I used to have on a message board about ten years ago. He hated the Beatle’s song “Imagine” because he interpreted it to mean we’d be living in a world where everyone was exactly the same.


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