Thursday, October 24, 2013

Facebook: Middle School for Grownups

Most of my friends on Facebook share my feelings about politics.

Several of them don’t.  Among these, two stand out.

One is a man I have known for over twenty years.  He was one of my first writing teachers.  I think he’s pretty brilliant.  I do not get his politics At All.

Once, years ago, at a writing retreat, I jokingly made reference to a political issue about which I knew we disagreed.  He looked at me imploringly and said, “Please let’s not talk about it.”  I understood that he did not want to fight with me.  I didn’t joke about it anymore.

Recently, this man posted something about President Obama as a response to something I had written.  I posted back, “Love you.  We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”  And he respected me and said nothing further.

The other person I want to write about is someone I’ve never met.  It’s funny that we’re even Facebook friends, since our lives are about as different as two Americans’ lives can be.  But we became online friends after his daughter starred in the trailer for my book PRETTIEST DOLL (Clarion 2012)

This man disagrees with just about every political opinion I hold.  But what I love—what I find meaningful about our virtual friendship—is that we’ve actually had extended conversations (via Facebook) about things that are hot buttons for both of us.  These conversations have been civil, even friendly.  That’s a rarity in today’s world.

The reason I’m writing about all this on a blog supposedly devoted to writing, books, and my life as a middle-aged woman is that I am working on a manuscript that takes place in a middle school.  Middle school, as we adults know, is a dreadful, dreadful place, and I was trying to catalog the reasons for this.
The usual things came immediately to mind: kids have one foot in the adult world and the other in a child’s, their voices are changing, they’re getting their periods, their skin is bad, their hormones are misfiring.  Everyone’s basically a hot mess, and there’s a lot of homework.  Just thinking about it makes me sick.

But the really bad thing—the worst thing—about middle school is that you only talk to your friends (which, this being middle school, you’re lucky to have).  There isn’t a whole lot of inter-clique mingling.  The athletic boys hang out with each other at lunch; they don’t have much to say to the Theater kids or the smart boys or the boys who go their own way or haven’t figured out just who they are yet.  Or the boys who want desperately to belong somewhere and, whatever the reason, don’t.

That is what is so dreadful about middle school.  That is what tears at my heart when I think about it.

This morning it occurred to me that many of us adults have re-created our own grownup version of middle school for ourselves.  We hang out with people who share our beliefs.  We whisper about the people who don’t, or make fun of them, or tell other people how stupid they are for believing what they believe. 

It’s kind of crummy, actually.

I’m not going to stop posting memes about how dangerous “the other side” is, or how they make up facts, or are delusional, or misinformed, or just plain wrong. 

But my two Facebook friendships have made me realize a couple of things.  One is that I have to keep in mind that “the other side” is made up of people I like and respect.  Would I say nasty things to their faces, in person?  Nope.  I would not.

The other thing I’m going to remember is that having a substantive conversation with someone who sees the world differently from the way I see it is far more satisfying, and ultimately more fun, that sharing funny memes.

Even the one about the idiots who think Girl Scout Cookies promote lesbianism.

1 comment:

  1. Love this! (Sorry for the belated read.) I recently friended someone who has very opposite beliefs from mine. I already knew that about her, but we were developing some common connections. When she responded to my friend request, she told me that she posts a lot of stuff, and that I should feel free to ignore it or block it. I thought that was very generous and self-aware of her. And it made me stretch a little further to Like the things that she posted that I could agree with.