Stupid Quarrels or Principled Stands?

I know I’ve been spending too much time on Facebook when I start to get annoyed even with the people I agree with.

What is it about social media that makes everybody come across as so unreasonable, even when they seem like such sensible, kind-hearted people when I encounter them in person? When I see their posts about politics or the church or the latest hot-button issue in the news, my mind skips right over the content of what they’re saying and jumps immediately to the tone. Without intending to, I start objecting to their certitude, their lack

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of consideration of other points of view. Even if I ultimately agree with their point, I automatically think up three or four objections to what they’re saying and then keep scrolling.

I have never “won” an argument on Facebook or Twitter, in the sense of having someone acknowledge that they see my point and have changed their position, and I have become increasingly reluctant to post or comment on controversial issues. Why put myself or others through the frustration? Should my reluctance to post be considered the silence of wisdom, or is it the cowardice or laziness of not wanting to take the heat for supporting a principled stand?

I have good ideas. When the issue of football players kneeling during the national anthem came up, for instance, I had a helpful solution for that! I also had some useful ideas about the Confederate monuments, the tax bill that Congress passed, the Dreamers, and a few other issues of the day. Ultimately, I decided to keep my thoughts to myself.

Why? I have been social media exchanges on such issues before, and it almost always ends in frustration. I set forth my idea, and almost immediately I’m blasted by someone on the other side who is not really addressing the specifics of what I’m saying but is simply stating the conclusion they came to long ago. My attempts to push back and clarify lead only to more muddled and sometimes increasingly angry exchanges. More friends jump in, the “conversation” hopelessly fragments, and pretty soon I’m sorry I posted anything in the first place.

In the meantime, the whole thing has been a big distraction. Instead of doing the real work I have to do, I find myself obsessed with composing responses in my head to a debate that isn’t headed anywhere anyway.

It’s tempting to drop out of social media discussions altogether, but I don’t like that idea either. When I consider this dilemma, two quotes do battle in my mind. The first is Edmund Burke’s famous line, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The second is Paul’s advice in 2 Timothy 2:23: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”

Paul certainly wasn’t reluctant to speak out about what he believed in. In fact, he gave his life for it. But would he have spent time on Facebook posts about kneeling during the national anthem or the best approach to tax reform?

I can’t say what Paul would do, but for me, I have decided to not entangle myself in social media disputes unless I really feel compelled to add my voice to the debate. I will ask myself, is this an issue on which I can really have some influence? Is speaking out on this topic contributing something, or is it a time-waster? Posting on Facebook sometimes gives the illusion of “doing something” about an issue, but sometimes instead of posting, I need to—well, do something.

I don’t want to be just one more person pointless voice weighing in on every Trump tweet or blasting away on an issue I really don’t know all that much about. I want to speak when it can mean something. Otherwise, I can enjoy the freedom of just letting it go.

7 thoughts on “Stupid Quarrels or Principled Stands?

  1. Joe, I tend to choose my battles. My dad used a line, “A man convinced against his will, is of his own opinion still.” I have had some very good discussions on FB, and I don’t care if they accept my opinion, nor I their’s, just that we sincerely listen and consider other opinions. The posts I MOST struggle to resist responding on are where they mistate facts and base their stance on what is wrong. I value truth too mu h sometimes. ;)

    • Thanks, Tim. I think picking your battles is the key. If I go on Facebook for twenty minutes, I could probably find half a dozen or more posts that I would like to respond to with a point of view that is much different from what the person is saying. But if I did that, and it started a big discussion, then I would never get anything else done, and it probably wouldn’t accomplish much. So I’m trying to learn to post about what matters most and to respond only when I really feel like it’s worth getting into the issue. I enjoy reading your posts on Facebook!

  2. I tend to try to measure the “volume” of the speaker. If he or she is “shouting” or “ranting”, I just let the pitch go by. If the person is wrestling with the issue and seems open to debate, then I might engage. Even with the political blog I edit, we try to examine both sides of the issue. That may not always get us the number of readers I would like, but it is performing a public service and I’m OK with that. We need more even-minded people like yourself to join the conversation!

  3. I don’t have accounts on FB, Twitter or other social media, though I do have a blog. Since I want to know more about writing and communicating, I read blogs from literary agencies, etc. From the blogs and comments I’ve read, I can see that more people are choosing to limit what discussions they get involved in, for the reasons you mention.

    • Thanks for your comment. Sometimes I take breaks from social media, but overall I still enjoy the interaction. I do understand why people might want to limit their use of it or stay away from it altogether.

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