One of my friends called me the other day and it was clear right off the bat he was annoyed. The source of his agitation is one that has become all too common — social media. And like many, he was left feeling stressed by the situation.
My friend made what was a relatively innocent comment on Facebook, but that one innocuous comment, turned into a firestorm.
I’ll give you some context about his comment: it was a comment made on a friend’s post and it related to President Trump. My friend, who we can call “Jim” for the purposes of this post, is someone I’ve known well for many years. Jim is not someone who lashes out or behaves aggressively and he’s known for his sense of calm and fairness — he is more a peacemaker than anything else. His comment was innocent enough, but he did make it clear that he does not feel that Donald Trump is a good person — he sees him as someone who intentionally causes divide, anger and anxiety and his comment basically said so, but in a tactful manner. Seeing his comment, people began weighing in and he took a great deal of abuse and hostility from diehard Trump supporters.
Jim said he tried to address each person who was attacking him in as calm and civil a manner as possible. Unfortunately, it did little to stop the onslaught. This however, is not what upset him. What upset him, was that a mutual friend of ours private messaged him with what he said was a vicious unprovoked attack. This friend let lose with insults, accusations and cruel words that came out of left field. She warned him that she thought Donald Trump was the best president in history and that she would choose him over their friendship. They went back and forth and he tried to calm her down and assure her that it was just his opinion and that shouldn’t ruin their friendship. Unfortunately, her tirade exposed a very ugly side of her personality and the damage was done — she basically ended their friendship via Facebook messenger. How sad and very unnecessary.
Polarizing Ourselves into Isolation
Why our friend attacked Jim is something we’ve tried to figure out. She doesn’t know Donald Trump and most likely will never meet him. Why then would she choose politics over long-term friendship? We may never know why, since I have opted to distance myself from her as well — the things she wrote were terrible and as I said earlier, exposed a very ugly side of her personality we didn’t know existed.
We’ve all experienced what my friend endured and it’s not pleasant. We say or post a seemingly innocent comment, merely expressing our views when out of the blue, we’re attacked for it. Its unsettling, alarming and a very dangerous sign of our times. One result is increasing isolation, as people find relationships destroyed due to intransigent political ideology — relationships that have lasted for years, are suddenly destroyed, all over politics.
What We Can Learn
America and indeed other nations, have become very polarized. Politics has turned toxic and armies of loyal party ideologues have taken control. The problem is that for many Americans, their political party has become more of a battalion of like-minded soldiers — its like a team mentality in which one must defeat the other side to have…victory? I don’t know, but that really seems to be what is happening.
Emanuel Maidenberg, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA sums it up like this: “People start seeing themselves or their political views as the main representation of their values, and what is right and wrong.”
People are starting to see their identity as something derived from their political party. They’re seeing the world as an “us vs. them” place, as opposed to one in which differing views are not a threat, but are a sign of healthy debate and action. The scorched earth mentality that has taken hold is, in my opinion, a sign that some people are actually unsure of who they really are in this world. No longer having their own thoughts, values and identity, they latch onto a political ideology and then sadly, allow that to consumer their very persona.
The Christian Perspective
Jim and I are both Christians and this factored into our chat about what had happened. For us, we don’t see people as enemies just because they believe differently than we do. There have always been differences between people — differences in political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality. Those differences are not a threat and should not be perceived as such.
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” ― Maya Angelou
I also mentioned earlier that I too have cooled my relationship with our mutual friend, but neither of us has ended the friendship…she has. I don’t reject her, I simply can’t understand where her hatred and bigotry came from, since she has never before expressed the views she did with Jim. As such, I have to re-evaluate the kind of relationship I can have with her. The Bible shows us that friendships have a powerful effect on us: In 1 Corinthians 15:33 it says,“Evil company corrupts good habits.” This is what shaped both of our reactions to her vitriol and toxic views.
If you have a friend who has let their political beliefs take full control of their life and personality and this has, in your view, changed them for the worse, there are some things you can do, including:
- If you can, extricate yourself from the conversation by saying something like, “I don’t think we’re going to agree on this, but I’d prefer not to fight about it, so can we change the subject?”
- If you believe their facts to be wrong, odds are that no matter what counter facts you share, they’re not going to alter their view, so you could try saying “I can see that you believe that, given the sources of your information, but my sources, which I trust, tell a different story. I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree.” In my experience, the next best thing to do is to change the subject or leave the conversation.
- Stay positive. When both parties in a “debate” become negative, the situation quickly sours. Maintain a positive demeanor, avoiding insults and use one of the exit strategies above.
“Those with sound thoughts you will keep in peace, in peace because they trust in you.” ― Isaiah 26:3
Ultimately, how you handle it is your personal choice. As a Christian, I do always try to maintain the peace because I know that just because they believe something, it doesn’t mean what I believe is wrong and vice versa. If we are confident in our views and opinions, then really, why let their contrary beliefs shake us? After all, we can always do more research to verify our or their information, so what’s the point in arguing?
“Sometimes the Lord rides out the storm with us and other times He calms the restless sea around us. Most of all, He calms the storm inside us in our deepest inner soul.” ― Lloyd John Ogilvie
Know Thy Self
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” ― Romans 12:2
When a person’s views are ones centered on hatred or bigotry, it may be time to re-evaluate that friendship. That is the case my friend Jim and I are dealing with now. Christians are taught to be kind and loving, but we’re not expected to associate with people who have evil in their heart: “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” ― Proverbs 22:24-25
The times we live in have become difficult to navigate. The divisions are growing so strong, it worries me greatly. Personally, I don’t understand it. Differing political views have always existed and those varying opinions are actually a sign of good health in our form of government. Today however, moderates on both sides of the political spectrum are being silenced, while the extremists are being encouraged. Perhaps the best way to navigate this new dynamic is to realize that there is much more to life than politics and we can’t allow a political party to shape our belief system — this is especially true for Christians. So, we should choose our friends and our “battles” wisely and look to peace, civility and harmony as the better way to lead our life.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” ― John 14:27
“Prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine.” ― Kathleen Norris
“Jesus is the greatest teacher of happiness the world ever knew. Take Him into your heart, into your mind, and you will sing a song of joy always.” ― Dr. Norman Vincent Peale