‘Friendship should be more than biting time can sever’
T S Eliot
We live in febrile times – or interesting times as the Chinese proverb would have it. That said, some folk choose to take little or no interest in current affairs compared to others who (like me) do take an active interest in the world around them. Each to their own. You pays your money and you takes your choice. I’m not making a value judgement here, by the way; I’m not condemning anybody who can’t be arsed with Brexit, Trump, Scotland’s independence or the impact of Islam on western society for example; I’m just saying that some of us choose to engage with these matters more intensely than others.
Either way, loads of us (1.94 billion people worldwide at the last count) have Facebook accounts – and I’ve noticed a particular trend recently as politics has become much more high profile. The trend to which I refer, of course, is for some people to use Facebook for sharing their thoughts on, well, politics. Indeed, politics today is often shot through with matters of religion too, so we’re in minefield territory here.
Let’s Not Talk About Politics
I don’t know if politics has always been quite as divisive as it is today, but we are where we are. Traditionally, the received wisdom has always been to avoid the topics of sex, religion and politics in polite discourse. However, the way politics is today, it’s almost impossible to avoid the subject. It’s interesting to note how often one stumbles across people talking politics in private and public these days – in coffee shops, in bars, over the kitchen table, in restaurants – compared to in the past. Like I said, the atmosphere’s pretty febrile.
With so many people discussing and often getting exercised about politics today, friendships are being tested. One observes and experiences this at first-hand on Facebook. Some people view Facebook as an application to communicate about anything and everything except politics. Others see Facebook as fair game to discuss, well, anything and everything.
I’m in the latter category. To me, Facebook is a virtual public house, or ‘pub’ as we Brits call it; a place where people meet to sup foaming ale, chat, laugh and quite often put the world to rights. One wouldn’t walk into a pub and start making it known to all those gathered therein that you expected them to avoid discussing this, that or the other topic. Or indeed, to set out for an evening with friends stipulating beforehand what topics were to be off the agenda, so to speak.
I was amused to note recently that the Editor of Debrett’s Guide to Etiquette & Modern Manners went on record to say, ‘sex, religion and politics, talk of which was formerly muted in polite and mixed society, are now given their due as the greatest subjects for conversation that have ever existed. To say not to talk about politics, especially at the moment with [everything going on around us], might be a bit weird; everyone is talking about politics.’
Somebody once said, ‘Anyone who has an opinion, and voices it, will offend someone’. On Facebook, if one of your friends posts some political point of view, or other, there’s pretty much a 50% chance you’ll be offended by it – such is the polarising nature of politics of late. The question is, what to do? How are we supposed to handle the Facebook post from one of our friends, sometimes one of our dearest friends, which makes the blood boil?
Well, here’s my 3 Point Proposal for Facebook and Friendship.
Point 1 – Play The Ball And Not the Man
First and foremost, always separate the person – your friend – from the point they’re making. The person isn’t the point, and the point isn’t the person. You may be vehemently opposed to your friend’s point of view, but you know you have a hundred things in common with your friend which together outweigh the detestable point of view – in your eyes – which they’ve just opined.
To get a little more deep and meaningful at this stage because, after all, friendship is a profoundly important component of the human condition, it was the French memoirist Comte de Bussy-Rabutin who said, ‘Love comes from blindness, friendship from knowledge’. The best friendships are loving relationships and, in this context, if the friendship is worth having, one can and should be blind at times to what the friend is saying.
Point 2 – Challenge Debrett’s
Second – shock! Horror! – I’m going to push back against Debrett’s. Can you believe it? I’m not convinced that raising the subjects of sex, politics or religion in conversation is such a great idea after all; certainly, not to do so gratuitously. Let’s stick with politics for now, for the purpose of this post. If politics comes up in conversation, by all means converse; not to do so might be considered to be anti-social under the circumstances. However, one should perhaps cover the subject of politics in the same way that one would walk on eggshells. It might also make sense to give politics a cursory airing and if (or, more like, when) it becomes clear that there is polarity in the group, move to change the subject.
That said, there will be circumstances of course where the group consensus is deliberately to discuss politics, for whatever reason. In which case, fill your boots. However, bear in mind at all times Point 1 above.
It seems to me that the great thing about Facebook, or any other of the popular social media platforms, is that one can express opinions which can and do fall into a black hole. In other words, unlike in a social setting where dropping a brick can cause unease all round, or invoke a conversational riot, dropping a brick into Facebook can be roundly ignored with nobody taking offence.
Point 3 – Curate Facebook
The question at this stage, then, is how to deal with opinions on Facebook with which you disagree? Here are my preferred options.
Option A – Ignore. Ignore your friend’s vile post. Just ignore it.
Option B – Respond (Intelligently). Respond to the post, but ideally with a counter-argument rather than with, ‘Oh Dave, will you just shut the f**k up.’ This seems to me to be the cyber-equivalent of smacking your friend in the gob. If you really are irritated by your friend’s post and you want to tell them so, why not set out the counter-view? However, if you can’t be bothered to shape a counter-argument than stick with Option A.
Option C – Use Facebook Technology. Click on the down-arrow at the top right of your friend’s irritating post. Then, click on ‘Hide post – See fewer posts like this’, then click on ‘See less from Dave Bloggs’. Slightly further up the nuclear option scale is to click on the down-arrow at the top right of Dave’s irritating post. Then, click on ‘Unfollow Dave – Stop seeing posts but stay friends’ which does what it says on the tin. Finally, the nuclear option, of course, is simply to click on Dave’s Facebook page and, up in his Cover Photo box, click on the ‘Friends’ button and ‘Unfriend’ Dave. The latter action seems a bit drastic if all Dave’s done is piss you off with his heat-of-the-moment views on Jeremy Corbyn, but that’s up to you.
Forgiving Our Friends
My rationale for writing this post was primarily because of the profound importance to me of making, nurturing, maintaining and renewing friendships. It was prompted by the realisation that, of late, some friendships and indeed families have been tested to the limits by political, social and religious events swirling about us. I wanted to contribute to the preservation of friendships notwithstanding the heat being generated by politics and religion today.
Like I said at the opening of this post, I understand and accept that some folk, for whatever reasons, choose not to engage in political discourse. However, we’re terribly fortunate to live in a vibrant democracy, with freedom of speech at its heart, that it seems to me to be almost contemptuous not to debate our circumstances these days – at least from time to time – with so much at stake.
I’ll sign off with another thought, this time from Cosimo de Medici (yes, he of that dynasty) who said, ‘We read we ought to forgive our enemies; but we do not read that we ought to forgive our friends’. Perhaps the next time your friend says or writes something that drives you to distraction and you’re contemplating never having anything to do with them again, maybe spare a thought for de Medici’s observation above and the entirety of this post. It’s written with the best of intentions.
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