On Facebook recently I signed and shared a petition requesting the U.S. bishops to stop their crusade against the Obama administration, which resulted in a series of comments from a FB friend whose religious views differ markedly from mine though we are both Catholic.  This is a common occurrence between us.  In this instance, I stated that the bishops’ political activities are a negative and divisive influence; she indicated that my posts are divisive, and that’s where it was left on FB.  I have been pondering the word “divisive” ever since.  The dictionary says it means “creating dissension or discord.” Am I divisive?  Not intentionally, but if you disagree with me as this person does, then you could perceive it that way.  On the other hand, comments on my FB posts also indicate that others are validated and helped by items I share. A similar matter of perception would direct one’s judgement of the bishops’ statements and actions in the political sphere. I am attuned to this dynamic presently as a result of the small group discussion at the Nuns on the Bus event last week; we noted that dealing with division in the church is as significant as Congressional politics in regards to advocacy on  the federal budget and especially health care.

Since we clearly are divided, the matter of who is more divisive is not so relevant.  Instead, the question becomes how to behave on social media in ways that if they can’t bring people together at least try not to drive them further apart.  Here are a few ideas I came up with:
1.  Comment on ideas and actions, not people.  Under this rubric, rather than calling the bishops divisive,  I might have said, “I am alienated by their approach.” or “I am not persuaded by their arguments.”
2.  Focus more on what I support rather than what I oppose.
3.  Recognize the limits of digital media when dealing with complex subjects; there is no substitute for actual dialogue.
4.  Refrain from responding to vitriol.
5.  Realize that real change results from live action, not just words on a screen, and that some conflict is inevitable.  A documentary about Anne Braden, a little known civil rights activist, at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center this past weekend, dramatically demonstrated these points.  A white Southerner, Braden devoted her entire adult life to advocacy around racism at great personal cost, including being accused of sedition.  She organized and participated in protests until her death at 82 in 2006 — and probably never worried about a Facebook page!

Photo by tanakawho via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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5 Responses to Divisive?

  1. Paul Kubicki says:

    Peg, I like that you seem to make a clear distinction between avoiding divisive rhetoric and avoiding controversy. It seems that divisive rhetoric makes everything seem a controversy, undermining our ability to deal with something where there is substantial, important, and perhaps passionate disagreement.
    Well said! Thanks!

  2. Pia Al-Ubaidi says:

    I’m sorry now, Peg, maybe I am just getting something very different from your post. It seems you were just calling a spade a spade when you referred to the bishops as “divisive”. I wholeheartedly agree, as a matter of fact I wrote a very *long* comment on the same petition you are referring to about the further divisiveness that *I* perceive the bishops’ caused by becoming so entrenched in this election in an already hurting, limping and wounded Church. To directly address that fact is not divisive in the least. I am sure that you addressed it, as I did and continue to do, with great concern about what actions will now be taken to heal those fractures and not to add fuel to the fire. Sure there are many ways to say the same thing as you suggest. However, I am just not sure that it is always necessary to avoid “divisive” or “controversial” topics or opinions in social media. Heck, no one is every going to agree with you 100% of the time anyway. For me, it has more to do with the intent of the person initiating the comments. I hope this makes some sense, as I am so full of interspection today and there is lots going on in my head. At any rate, thanks for the post, it is very insightful indeed…. Peace & blessings+

    • Peg Conway says:

      Hi Pia — Thanks for your comment, and I can’t say I disagree with your general point. As a bit of further elaboration, the post originated from several experiences of offending (and being offended) by someone I know and like, not just the incident related at the start. I could have just unfriended her and moved on, but that doesn’t feel right. I value the relationship. But I want to be who I am and say what I think even on controversial matters too — I’m becoming more aware of expressing myself in a way that at least tries not to fan flames with other people, so that perhaps my intent is more evident.

      • Pia Al-Ubaidi says:

        Hi Peg, I certainly understood where you are coming from and respect and admire what you are trying to accomplish in your communications 🙂 Like I said, when I read the post something completely different jumped out at me and resonated with me in a different way, despite what was obviously your point. Perhaps I shouldn’t have replied with what may have been irrelevant comments to the point of the post… the thoughts just popped into my mind and there you go 🙂 Just shows you where my head is at these days

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