Yes readers, my predilection to offer a question or commentary has once again taken me to the dark end of Facebook. Not an actual defriending (like happened recently), but my comments were deleted and observers have suggested that I be "hid" (Facebook lingo for keeping you as a friend, but blocking everything you say).
In this new era of electronic conversation, it is sometimes unclear as to what would be proper conversational etiquette. Should one throw controversial subjects into the ether? How should others respond? Are they allowed to respond? Is it an attack on the person if their idea is questioned or contradicted?
It all started this way....
Let's call my Facebook friend Sam, since I don't know any Sams. Sam stated in his status (a status is a short commentary similar to a Tweet):
"WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Press 1 for English. Press 2 to disconnect until you learn to speak English. And remember only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, JESUS CHRIST and the AMERICAN SOLIDER. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom. If you agree... copy and paste in your status"
Now, in the interest of full disclosure I have to state that I have a tendency to roll my eyes at anything that wants me to "copy and paste into your status", particularly if it has a religious subject. I took issue with both of the statements. I teach immigrant families, so I didn't care for the first and I blanched strongly at the religious insinuation of the second.
I debated whether I wanted to get into this. I don't like to argue for arguments sake, but I also think ideas like this need to be challenged. So often people who make statements like this are very insulated in their experiences with people outside their group. Therefore, they have a hard time even picturing what this might sound like to someone not in their frame of thinking.
So I simply commented below:
"What does one do if they disagree?"
To which Sam replied:
Again, I debated responding. I knew I was not going to change Sam's view, so why bother? But then I considered that there are tens if not hundreds of people who read Sam's comment. Maybe they had a bad experience recently with someone struggling with English. Maybe they have been led to believe that militarism and Christianity have no contradictory philosophies. Sam's comment may stir them up and embolden them along this path if they never hear a counter proposal.
So I responded:
"Voting may help deal with what I perceive as the bigotry of the first statement, but I am not sure what I could do with the blasphemy I see in the second."
"Explain why you feel this to be blasphemy? The second statement that is. As for bigotry, I stand strong on my beliefs and will refrain from commenting as to keep the peace."
At this point, an observer commented that my use of blasphemy and bigotry "are pretty strong words. We must learn to respect the feelings and opinions of others and reign in our own." I am not sure whether his closing comment was to the two of us or to me alone.
So I responded (this is probably 95% accurate, the original was deleted. I had kept a rough draft in Word, but I know I made a few changes as I was posting it):
"It is not simply a matter of keeping the peace or respecting the views of others. When we make public declarations, particularly if they are made against a group of people, we have to expect that it will generate controversy. As a friend of mind reminded me recently - there is no such thing as free speech - our words have consequences. I occasionally blog on topics which people will disagree with. If I am going to put my statements out to the public, then I should expect that my words may be challenged.
I believe the first statement is bigoted. I teach many students who are second generation Americans. Their parents are working 2-3 jobs. They live in a community that is primarily Spanish speaking. The reality is, those first generation folks are always, generally speaking, going to be weak on English regardless of which culture they came from. Conversational English is one thing, academic English is another. Most public documents and legal exchanges require an academic level of English. How many of us know more than one language at an academic level? It is an enormous amount of work even if you are fully immersed (which they are not). Statements like the first are said flippantly and repeated to stir up anger and frustration amongst the dominate culture. I think this kind of talk is damaging to our national outlook.
As to blasphemy, yes I do think it is disrespectful to compare the two. People have MANY varying feelings about the use of the military (the discussion of which I will leave for another time), so I do not think it should ever be hinted at that one must keep their views of Christ in tandem with certain feelings about the military (if Christian). Overall, I think it displays a troubling trend in many strands of Christianity. God is no longer over all, but is rather a plank that is used to buttress one's arguments of politics and American exceptionalism. God/Guns/Country becomes a set of interchangeable words used to express one's worldview. This, I believe, is a blasphemy.
Facebook is not a private affair. Most of the things we write are read by hundreds of people. Such quips may be said unchallenged when one is with their homogeneous group of friends over a beer, but these things are being said in a larger context. I do not say this in a mean-spirited way or to stop conversation; rather, I hope this generates conversation. I believe we all hold many ideas based on hearsay and popular, but unfounded, notions. Unless our ideas are challenged, we become intellectually inbred. I am in high disagreement with both statements, and want to argue for another view, but that doesn't translate to anything more than that."
I meant my last statement to clarify that I did not take any of this personally; it was a disagreement of ideas. I don't think it was received that way though. Soon after, Sam deleted the comment and the ensuing discussion. He later put in his status that our conversation was a contentiousness that he did not want to have as part of his Facebook experience.
This has left me again pondering how we go about talking to one another... how we agree, how do we disagree?
For the most part, I have always enjoyed being contradicted (unless the person is being rude). I remember some of my first college political science classes. I would make some sweeping cliched generalization that I had learned to parrot as an evangelical. My professor, Marv Surowitz, never failed to challenge my presumptions. I remember once he smiled at me after I made some trite statement and said, "Hackman that is pure HorseSHIT!" and then using history he completely deconstructed my argument. I was shocked; in my religious subculture homogeny of thought was expected. However, instead of being offended or embarrassed (well, maybe a little embarrassed), I found those experiences invigorating. I felt like I was moving into open fields. (As a side note, I took Marv for 3 classes over my first two years and he was a large component of why I went into teaching).
Those experiences (and many since) have taught me to hold views, but hold them loosely... always ready to change as new experiences offer more information. So I think I have a hard time understanding folks who tie their beliefs up with their ego. To deconstruct their argument is to deconstruct them. What I interpret as a challenging of ideas, the other interprets as a personal attack.
Which leaves me wondering how to address people when they make pronouncements that I highly disagree with or find destructive.
How do you handle it?