(July 13, 2020)
Most of us have seen people we are connected to on social media post material that we might find truly offensive and/or an antithesis to our core beliefs. Some of these posts may be in reference to:
- Donald Trump is Great for America
- COVID is a Hoax
- All Lives Matter
Our initial inclination might be, in outrage, to counter these posts, or even to skip that step and select the “unfriend” or “disconnect” option.
There are valid points for unfriending: why remain connected to people whose values differ so vastly from ours, particularly when such views we find to be morally reprehensible?
Before “unfriending,” let’s hit the pause button. Clearly we are reacting in anger, and we can better make such decisions after deliberation and in a more peaceful disposition.
Who are the people we are considering unfriending? Are they friends from high school or college? Are they neighbors or coworkers? Are these people that I am truly close to or loose connections?
Often several of our social media connections might be loose ones: people we met once at a party, a friend of a friend, someone we might have lost touch with years ago.
If these are not strong connections and it appears the ideological clashing might further prevent such relationships to experience a re-connection, then it might be prudent to let these connections go.
At times, our social media connections might be people we know well and that know us well.
However, we might not have known them as well as we thought, or over time our respective ideologies have diverged. Hence, the decision to unfriend might have more of a sting.
In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola included a Presupposition: to “be more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false” (SpEx 22, Puhl translation).
Ignatius is asking us to give these connections the benefit of the doubt.
Rather than brand one of our friends as a heretic or a racist, we are being called to pause, seek to understand this person’s perspective, and assume they are coming from a good place. This could begin a dialogue via private message:
“I notice you have strong feelings about Donald Trump, I would like to hear more about your perspective.”
“You sounded very upset about the looting in your city and the connection to Black Lives Matter. Tell me more about this pain.”
Often we uphold ideologies embedded in deep passion, but at times it is embedded in deep pain, and we respond to contrasting ideologies out of our own sense of deep pain.
When we recognize the pain in others rather than reject their contrasting ideologies, we can be true and better friends to these connections.
Additionally in doing this, we can grow in humility in not asserting that we are right and that the others are wrong, but expressing a willingness to listen to a different perspective in an unbiased manner and surrendering inordinate attachment to our own ideas, another Ignatian principle.
Fifteen years ago, I would have asserted that illegal immigration is immoral and that people should enter the US through the proper channels. I would have felt convicted and justified in this belief.
However, since that time I have gotten to know people who have been turned away from the US border who were seeking to escape violence. I have also lived in some of the countries where the US is turning immigrants away and have gotten to know first-hand the violence they are speaking of.
Past-Tense Me and Present-Tense Me would be at odds with each other. However, if Past-Tense Me could have listened to my experience of immigrants seeking to come illegally to the US, and if Present-Tense Me could listen and support the underlying anger that was driving Past-Tense Me’s belief, each of us could have become better people for having engaged in that dialogue.
Therefore, adopting Ignatius’ Presupposition could allow us to be truer Friends to our social media “friends,” rather than blasting them online or “unfriending” them.
Thereby we can be, as Pope Francis has stated, builders of bridges and not walls.