Facebook is such a wonderful laboratory for human interaction. We share photos, misspelled memes and inane cat videos, but we also share a lot of our opinions in a fairly low-risk environment. I’ve been “unfriended” before, mostly because of differences over religion. I’d like
to pretend that I didn’t care, but I did. It hurt. However, I figure that anyone who would “unfriend” me at the touch of a button probably never actually “friended” me in the real world.
Most people, in my experience, have similar goals. We want a better world, and we expect our fellow Earthlings to contribute to making a better world right alongside us. If we have kids, then we worry about the world that we’re leaving to them. We’re afraid of what we can’t control. We want to be remembered as good and decent people who, by our presence, improved the lives of others. We may differ on how best to reach these ends, but we ultimately want the same things.
In 1993, I spent my summer in Rochester, New York, at the Eastman School of Music. I remember a professor telling the story of a fellow musician who used to ask questions like, “Are you an oboe? Are you a flute?” In her wisdom, she explained that it was fine to identify yourself as being devoted to an instrument, but it was better to identify as a whole person. In other words, you’re an oboe player, not an oboe. You need a well-rounded sense of self.
I decided this week to stop using certain words as nouns and to start using them as adjectives. Two of those words are “liberal” and “conservative.” I can say either that someone is a liberal, or I can say someone is a liberal person or a person with liberal views. I’ve decided that I prefer the latter ways because in those phrasings, I’m acknowledging the existence of a person. When our adversaries stop being people to us, we become too comfortable dehumanizing those who disagree with us. For example, if you call yourself “believer” and identify your friend as “unbeliever,” then you may decide that “unfriending” the unbeliever is a stance for your principles. It’s not seen for what it is: a small, mean gesture revealing the closed nature of your own mind and heart.
When I look at my news feed and even my paper address book, I see a roster of people who have many opinions that are different from mine. Sometimes, I argue with them, either from a defensive posture or because I’m jones-ing for a sparring match, but there isn’t a name on my friends list or in my address book that I would choose to eliminate. When friends need me or when we’re laughing together, political and religious disagreements melt away. I’ll cancel out their votes at the ballot machine as often as I can, but I won’t cancel our friendship.
If you’re my friend, post your pro-Koch brothers editorials. Post your pro-NRA memes. Fill my news feed with Dave Ramsey quotes. Feel free to post about the hope that you find from your faith. You may almost make my unbelieving feminist pinkie commie head explode, but as long as my liberal skull stays intact, then you and I will always be friends.
I’m going to continue reflecting on which nouns I can transition to adjectives in my own conversation. A person isn’t a liberal or a conservative any more than he’s an oboe.