As many others surely have experienced, there is someone on my friend list who I argue with. …A lot.
I think most people, myself included, would have unfriended this person by now, under most circumstances. A lot of my friends question my sanity just by allowing him to see my posts, and react to them. Yes, he is that bad. I think most would classify him as a ‘conservative libertarian’, due to his mode of lingo, but he declares himself to be a ‘left-leaning Republican’. To him, there is no such thing as income equality, the only distinction is between the economically adept, and the economically inept. There is no such thing as racism, only people playing the race card to get free stuff. Socialism never works, etc. etc.
So yeah. Why not drop him from my social media experience?
There’s only one problem: I have known him since we were in grade school, and we have been friends for most of that time. We harken back to a time when politics revolved around bottle rocket wars. I don’t like to give up on people, in any case, much less one that involves a longtime friend. What I’d rather do, in spite of the trouble and risks involved, is get to the bottom of our differences, in an attempt to heal the rift between us.
So I wrote him the following letter. Naturally, you will not be in the exact same situation with the seemingly callous, indifferent members of your social media circles, but there will surely be enough similarity to draw distinctions in your own situation:
Hey Percival (that’s not his real name), I hope you don’t mind me writing you this. It’s been on my mind for a while now. Please read the entire thing, before you respond.
As a person who has been friends with you since grade school, I can say that I’m fairly certain that I have isolated where we disconnect. You seem to be convinced that your own personal experiences (valid and relevant though they are), are sufficient basis to form rock-hard, solid opinions about society as a whole.
They’re not, and I’ll tell you why.
You spent a good 15 minutes on the phone with me last night, trying to convince me that you lived “SUPER-cheaply”, and were relatively happy with your life in California. That may be true, but the point was to try and prove to me that if you’re poor in America today, it’s because you made poor decisions. It’s your own fault, not a system designed to thwart you.
Correct me if I’m wrong about that. (I wasn’t.)
Strangers on the internet might be able to get away with saying things like that, but you can’t. I know you too well. You were raised with all the perks of an upper-middle-class white male upbringing. Your parents both graduated from college, you lived in a nice suburb, you were raised to appreciate education, by people who had one. Neither you nor I were “spoiled”, we were both taught to work for our money, but my point is still valid. We were being encouraged to join the boy scouts, while others were encouraged to join gangs and commit crime. While we were deciding whether to spend our lunch money on candy, they were deciding whether to move their bed out of possible driveby fire. We minimize this distinction at our own peril.
You decided to take your love of the outdoors and combine your degree, by making a living as a rafting guide. This turned out to be a great decision to make, as it gave you 2 important survival skills at once. Pretty amazing. But the thing you need to focus on is not your answers, but the questions you were presented during your life. You were presented with those opportunities because of your upbringing. Your experiences in India and the US are great…they’re just not UNIVERSAL.
There are always exceptions to every rule, and you are an exception. You once told me I was exceptional. You are equally if not more exceptional. The problem is that the millions who are employed fulltime and still have to draw government benefits are more “the rule”. You can’t fault them for not making the same decisions you made when they weren’t even asked the same questions. And yes, there are people who simply abuse the system. Again, all studies on the subject show that those people are the exception, not the rule.
And while it’s entirely true that a person can completely strangle themselves by making poor decisions, comparing the experiences of someone raised in a well-to-do suburb, with the experiences of someone raised in a ghetto, trailer park, or housing project, is just silly. This has nothing to do with race, it has to do with poverty, environment, opportunity, and upbringing.
My Democratic Socialist leanings want to even out the playing field. All indications from (mostly European) countries, which are on the cutting edge of it right now, show that people perform better when they feel valued, as opposed to feeling like the world owes them something perpetually, in lieu of that reinforcement. Yes, there is financial aid for the poor in the US, but with it comes the burden of a heavy stigma. It brings little in the way of self-esteem when people are looked down on for “having to take it”, when others don’t have to. Medicare for all will help fix that. Raising the minimum wage will also help fix that.
If we were all regarded as important and vital enough to ensure good health and education, then all of us, as a society, will benefit. In my opinion, it’s a country’s responsibility to take care of its own people. Syria can do it for crying out loud, but we can’t? Don’t tell me that. It’s bullshit.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to go off the political deep end there, but like I said, I have been thinking about this a lot.
So there it is, my attempt at reaching out to a friend, to offer a different perspective, and gently argue for it without treading on his ego, and shutting him down immediately. Nobody, most importantly I, can’t say I didn’t try.
It’s important to note that I wasn’t necessarily looking ‘to change anyone’s mind’, though to walk through his mind, it’s hard not to imagine some changes in decor. My intent was more to open his mind to possibilities, so that he might not be quite so quick (First response. Always) to troll my posts with the same inane, redundant banter. And if he still just can’t resist doing so, then maybe he might phrase it in the form of a question, and make Alex Trebek (and ME) SO proud. The self-righteous arrogance with which he opposed any idea I put forth was probably the hardest part to take. Removing that mammoth obstacle is the first step. Nothing can happen toward a goal of mutual understanding and respect before that happens.
So did it work, my attempt to bridge that gap between us?
Though it admittedly didn’t seem so at first, his reaction to the message initially was favorable. Perhaps it is unwise to focus on immediate results from such an encounter. Who knows whether the seeds I planted will sprout, or if they will find themselves sowed onto barren soil, but the fact is that I tried to meet this friend halfway. I didn’t do this by conceding to his terms at all, but by closely analyzing his vantage point, in an attempt to understand how he came to possess it. I didn’t toss him on the slag heap, in any case.
Again, you will not likely find yourself in the exact same situation that I was in with my friend. But like him, nobody got where they are simply by making the right decisions. Even the CEO’s of top 500 corporations rely on everyday workers getting to work every day on publicly-funded roads. If you can apply this same approach to someone in your social media circles, then please do. You will likely feel better, in spite of the outcome. And who knows! You may reach a few people in time.
There is only one thing that is sure, and that is that you will NOT reach anybody unless you try.