a difference of opinion?

Facebook is a weird place.  It makes it very easy to keep tabs on people.  You can say yes to the friend request of someone you had English class with in high school but never hung out with, or the wife of an old childhood pal, or someone you only knew at work.  And it isn’t until you friend these people, and you are suddenly privvy to their own personal data stream, that you may realize you have some major differences in opinion.

I have heard and read several studies that claim that the Internet and social networking sites allow us to meet more people that are exactly like us, rather than fostering diversity and interconnectedness.  I like to think that I am an openminded individual, who is happy to associate with people who do not share my political views or personal ideals or even religious beliefs.  Hell, T and I have very different political beliefs, so we just agree to disagree, and we don’t talk politics too much.

And there’s the rub.  All these people you friended because you used to know them in a certain context are now sharing their most deeply-held personal beliefs 24-7 with all of their closest friends and family.  And you.  Subjects that would never come up during a 40-hour work week are suddenly posted, shared and ranted about on a regular basis.  Whether you agree with them or not.

Maybe they posted something that is completely contrary to your beliefs.  And you can’t resist making a comment to contradict them, which turns into a comment battle.  Or maybe it’s the other way around — you post something, and get a torrent of criticism or unwanted advice.  I’m sure that everyone on Facebook has run into this problem before.  But what do you do about it?

The first time I ran across this phenomenon was with the spouse of a former high-school classmate.  I had no interest in going to war with someone I had never met in person, so I simply hid her posts.  The next time around, it was a former classmate themselves, someone who had opposing political beliefs to mine and liked to stir the pot.  And I always took the bait.  I finally decided I had to do something, if only to save myself a small amount of mental anguish each day.  Unfriending seemed unkind, so hiding his posts was the easy way out.

But then there was a third person.  Someone I had been close to during our freshman year of college, but had not been in touch with for over 10 years before Facebook reunited us.  This person had become born-again in the intervening time, and frequently posted points of view I disagreed with, both religious and political.  For a little while, I commented on the posts I disagreed most violently with.  In one case, I found myself in an exchange with another of his friends, with several volleys of opposing opinion.  And then I realized something.

I was that person who decided to butt in and provide my unsolicited opinion when no one else wanted it.

My born-again friend?  Never commented on my posts he didn’t agree with.  And rarely replied to my annoying comments on his posts.  He was just stating what he believed to his friends who believed the same thing.  And he let me believe, and post, whatever I liked without comment.

And that’s where I realized that you don’t have to hide or get rid of people you have friended but sometimes disagree with.  Any more than you need to stop talking to your coworker as soon as you realize that they are a Green Party member and you’re a Libertarian.  You simply choose to not get into it with them, in the hopes that they will respect your right to believe what you like and do the same.  So when I see a Facebook friend’s post that I disagree with, I simply don’t read it.  And that way, I don’t get mad, and I don’t have to be that crazy person who is ranting in their comments.  And since I stopped meddling, I don’t seem to have the problem of people butting in and telling me my posts are wrong either.

Most of the time, it works that way.  Sometimes, I admit, I just can’t resist butting in.  Respectfully, of course.  But I do try to hold my virtual tongue.

And I’m sure that as soon as I have kids, and I start to share the choices I’m making as a parent, all that no-one-butting-in will be a distant, fond memory.  But that’s okay.

Because there’s nothing more boring than only knowing people who believe exactly the same things you do.  Just ask T.  *smile*