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.