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  • Marie Trout

Five Ways To Stay Sane When Discussing Politics Online

After the election madness ended, I have not been inactive politically. But I have been silent on social media.

Like a political voyeur peeping from the sidelines, I watched others engage in Twitter mudslinging, Facebook word wrestling, meme slamming, and general statements ranging from despair, hopelessness, and grief to glee, bravado, and jubilation.

By being politically mute, I didn’t get verbally massaged by laudatory remarks from likeminded social networkers. And I didn’t have to suffer blows from axes of opposing opinions seeking to troll, chop, and decimate.

I occasionally felt compassion or admiration for those engaging in online battles, but in all honesty: more often I felt appalled, distanced, and in disbelief. I have not yet seen anyone convince anyone who are not already convinced. But many have told me that they believe that they showed others a thing or two by their verbosity.

As if this were a verbal boxing match that someone could actually win.

To the best of my observational skills, these exchanges bring nothing but animosity, while distracting people from finding consensus on anything that could bring about real, meaningful, and bipartisan debate or, dare one say: action.

The American population is split into thirds: One third is on the left, one third is on the right, and the remaining third finds itself in the middle, oscillating back and forth. All of them, each in their own way, with each their own carefully chosen sources, seek to keep track of a sense of reality, which is an increasingly tall order.

We are running through a virtual hall of mirrors in which propaganda fog machines pumps out a thick, toxic smoke screen while we are trying to watch a shadow theater flickering on disjointed, prismatic mirrored walls, all while throwing stink bombs at where we think the “enemy” hides.

Our reality is filled with manufactured confusion. And anger, outrage, fear, and hatred follow.

Members of each side point the finger at the other. And the uncommitted third group in the middle often use silence, apathy, and disbelief as shields while benchwarming at the ubiquitous, virtual manure throwing contests.

And whether we seek to navigate, or circumnavigate, the increasingly more and more slanted, slippery, slimy, stink-filled parquet floor, the band is playing nearer something to something, and the mirror halls of the Titanic are sinking.

I am shocked to read that people on the other side of this olfactory offending (and visually bewildering) circus claim the reason for the status quo is the complete opposite reason of what I see.

Their views are upside down, backwards, and totally wrong. And they look at my reasons and say the exact same thing.

This is not just postmodern relativism. This is the ultimate product of a highly individualistic culture in which each person claims the right to his or her very own, carefully selected Truth that fits most conveniently and comfortably with what they are used to.

As if it is their God-given right to choose news outlets that pamper and support their views, whether they are factual or not.

A few days ago, I decided that I could not be quiet anymore. I started posting — also things that qualify as political. So be it. And the expected range of responses came swiftly: vitriol and trolling on one side, praise and righteous support on the other.

And that is when it happened: I found out that I just don’t care. Others define themselves by stating their opinions. They do not define me.

So this will be my survival practice to stay in balance while navigating posting about politics on social media:

  1. When I speak up, I don’t do it for Truth with capital T, but rather for my own sanity. For what I see. While it initially was comfortable to sit out the shit storm, it is no longer possible for me to do so. As I break my political silence online, I enter onto the slippery parquet floor with nose clips applied and mop in hand.

  2. I refuse to see others as my friend or my enemy based on whether they agree or disagree with me. They can troll, agitate, provoke, praise, consent, and approve all they want. I really don’t care.

  3. I remind myself that the purpose of speaking to one another is to widen mutual understanding and not to knock others out or win on points.

  4. If someone has something to say that is thoughtful, honest, and factual, I will relate to it and think about it, even if it is counter to my own beliefs. I will research and seek to understand.

  5. If others simply slam talking points or fear-for-fear’s-sake memes, I won’t respond whether I agree or not. Their comments define them, not me.

It is often considered confrontational, and even rude, to discuss politics especially with someone from the other side. It becomes contentious because today, the common ground is in exile. In this environment, when nobody wants to engage with someone who challenges one’s own vantage point, we simply become more and more entrenched in our beliefs about the world.

And we become increasingly inflexible in seeing beyond what we are habitually clinging to.

And the result is these increasingly divided, and less and less united, states of America. We are becoming emperors without clothes parading around in self-importance seeking others to compliment us on our fantastic robes. And any opposing voices must be silenced as to not shatter the illusion.

Enough is enough! I believe in free speech. And that includes my own.

I want to find my way through the smoke screen in those mirrored halls, and I believe that we can be more successful at navigating the maze if we stay grounded in facts, stop running into our own reflection, and open the windows to winds of exchange. Maybe then we can find better use of the social media dance floor rather than as a holding place for our verbal manure (the virtual combative legwork of a tango maybe?).

Who knows, maybe then this ship isn’t the Titanic after all?

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