Friday, January 22, 2010

More Facebook Trouble

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."

Sam replied:

"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?


Anonymous said...

People. :)

The other day someone made a Vote for Brown comment on Facebook. The person is pretty much like your "friend" I gave a one word response "Coakley" My "friend" deleted my comment.

And Bruce deleted his "friend" :)


Chad said...

I commented yesterday on the same facebook comment. I copied Leviticus 19:34 and then said he should go to and do a search on alien. He actually answered back that he never thought of it like that before and later in the day actually thanked me basically for the rebuke. He even said that he decided to keep the post up in case someone else can learn from his mistake.
I hope that gives you some hope that speaking truth does work at times. I've recently been shot down by rebuking citizen magazine for having Glenn beck on the cover. I basically feel like their evangelizing for the lds church. Sure enough a "quasi" Christian asked me recently about the lds faith as he's a fan of beck and beck goes to a Christian sect called mormonism and he was very interested.

Needless to say, the citizen defender back up the cover choice of beck.

Andrew said...

Yeah "the rebuke of a friend is better than the kisses of an enemy" as Proverbs says. That is cool that your friend reacted that way, but ya never know which way this stuff will go. When I was reading Huck Finn to the kids tonight, Huck's advice is that it is just better to be quiet and keep the peace. I thought it was funny that the chapter ended on that note.

This is a question I will be wrestling with for a while. I have managed to really offend him, but I can't say I would take it back. I see no reason that the hard working parents in the neighborhood where I work need to justify themselves to some white dude living 1500 miles away.

Cody Stauffer said...

Does anyone else find it ironic that the person asked Andrew to be respectful of other people's feelings?

Elder Enger said...

I've had the same thing happen to me when discussing politics. My comments were deleted and the reason, "you're upsetting my friends."

I don't understand the need to delete the comments. That is... um... censorship, right?

Open, honest discussion is what our country is lacking and shouldn't be.... deleted.

You're a good man Andrew and I appreciate your insights.

Unknown said...

Andrew, well done! I am in full agreement here.

BTW thanks for the quote...I am flattered.

Elsa said...

"We must learn to respect the feelings and opinions of others and reign in our own." I read this comment - on your comments - and winced. Yes, that is so common these days. We are to deny our own inner voices in the name of respecting the opinions of others. But they somehow are not required to rein in their opinions, out of respect for our opinions. None of this makes any sense. Plus it gives no space for discussion, learning, thinking things through.

R-Liz said...

I appreciate how you handled this. How I respond in situations like this really depends on the relationship I have with the person and that person's background.

Your friend's status was icky on so many levels, so I'm with you-- you had to say something. You tested the waters with your first comment, received feedback, and then laid it out for them after that. I believe honest, tactful encounters like this with others does do some good. Even if they (or their friends who read it) only heard a little bit of it, it lays some groundwork for them possibly opening their minds on the subject in the future.

Thanks for sharing this.

Also, I'm going to request to be your 'friend' on FB. Hope that's okay.

Andrew said...

Bruce - I have to admit, as a writer, it bothers me when someone asks me for an explanation, I take the time to do so in detail, then they delete it cause they don't like it. Grrrrr...

Cody - I always think people will notice inconsistencies more if they write them... but it doesn't turn out to be true.

Chris - I agree. I can't understand all of the deleting and shushing. (BTW, We need to get the Annie cast to go out to dinner or something... I miss everybody!)

Curmudgeon - Now you are a quoted author! :)

Elsa- Welcome! On the FB side of this conversation there are lots of suggestions that I "recant". I think this is primarily driven by the fact that they see nothing wrong with, or agree with, the statements.

R-Liz - again, on the FB side of this conversation the primary complaint is that I did this publicly. Perhaps I am missing something, but he stated it publicly... then clarified that he stands by what he said. I fail to see why it is insensitive to carry on a discussion publicly on a position that he is happy with. I think I remained tactful... If people are doing that, we should be able to talk about pretty much anything.

R-Liz said...

Andrew-- just to clarify, I do think you were tactful and honest. That whole bit I wrote was my take on what you did.

Andrew said...

R-Liz... I understand, and thank you. I was just noticing, outloud, that the assumption on some of the FB side of this conversation is that I am attacking.

Don said...

Facebook, to me, is a strange phenomenon, as you know, in which I participate. To keep peace "IN" my own family, I am careful as to what I write. Grrrrr....No guts, no glory! That's me.

Andrew said...

I hear ya Don. The hard part sometimes is how convoluted things get. For the folks who wish I would have stayed quite, the crux of their complaint is that I represented what was said. Not MISrepresented! I had the audacity to bring attention to what was said.

One would think that would demonstrate that there is a problem with the words that were said... I guess I am just weird that way.

Dave Sopko said...


I believe that I posted in the said conversation that varied viewpoints are to be celebrated. It was at least close to that, hard to be sure since it is gone now. I applaud that people stand for what they believe. No matter what side of the fence you are on, you should truly believe what you say, and be willing to back that up with your reasoning...and hopefully some facts.

I have also had someone on FB delete a comment they made because I called them on their own hypocrisy using quoting their own words. People apparently do not like to be questioned while questioning others tolerance.

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