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Talking with the other side

Has anyone else lately been wondering how to handle the version of themselves our “friends” feel comfortable sharing on social media? It’s uncomfortable. People we thought we knew; people who never reveal THAT side of their belief system in face-to-face conversation … or, at least, not face-to-face conversation with us.

It hurts most when you see it come from someone you respect, or even love. It’s disappointing.

But then what?

I’ll admit there have been a couple of particularly heinous ones — intentionally in-your-face, “I dare you” posts — in which the person (likely copying and pasting) included something along the lines of “unfriend me if you believe otherwise.” So I did.

That doesn’t feel quite right either, though. I’m a big believer in not creating an echo chamber for myself; not curating the information I consume so that it is all tailored to what I want to hear, or what I already think I believe. So the others stay.

It’s partly because I want to understand how other people are thinking; it would be crazy to bury my head in the sand and pretend everyone thinks about the world the way I do. But it is partly because I don’t know how to handle them.

Some of these people are what I would consider to be close friends. And they are expressing passionate beliefs with which I disagree so strongly that I have written about them in this very spot. I talk bravely in print about doing something to change what we are facing; talking (and listening) to others; taking action because this is too important not to … and then I’m a coward when faced with people in my own circle.

If I tell them I believe their posts are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and/or intentionally misleading; and that what they are saying is wrong … there’s a good chance that will be the end of the friendship. Am I brave enough for that?

Sure seems like I should be.

After all, worrying about keeping in line with the “cool kids” is essentially how we have stayed in this mess to begin with. Few wanted to step outside what was socially acceptable — forgetting they had the power to CHANGE what was socially acceptable.

I know it’s not a good idea to just dive right into an argument with people. Nothing is going to change if we start conversations with, “Well, that is stupid and you’re a hateful so-and-so.” I know how easy it is to let some people off with the excuses “Well, that’s just how they were raised/taught,” or “That’s just how it was for their generation.”

But we’ve got to find a way. Certainly, I need to find a way. Help me out, then, folks.

If you have found a good way to begin such conversations, or if you have been part of a particularly inspiring conversation, share it with me (and our readers) in a letter to the editor.

This is difficult and uncomfortable, but necessary. If it helps a few of us get the ball rolling in our own circle of friends, all the better.

We’ve got to start somewhere.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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