Screw It, Let's Talk Politics And Religion

Metro NY recently reported that Facebook has "hopped aboard the peace train with its new Peace Dot domain." This quote makes me happy because I imagine the Facebook logo drowning in hemp jewelry and Grateful Dead tee shirts holding up earnest peace signs waving goodbye to Papa Zuckerberg before heading to a d-list version of Woodstock somewhere in the midwest ... all aboard the good 'ole peace train.

But all Facebook logo hippie jokes aside, this is a powerful example of the legitimacy of the social media and cause hybrid as well as a provoking example of social interaction across lifestyle and cultural barriers.

Peace Dot is a campaign put on by Stanford University and is the brainchild of Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab- which markets itself as an attempt to harness computing power as a force for social change (take THAT other college persuasive technology labs!). According to the Metro article, the Peace Dot campaign on Facebook allows visitors to analyze Facebook connections between publicly warring factions, i.e. friend invites between Israelis and Palestinians, or sharing among U.S. Liberals and Conservatives.

According to the site, Facebook believes that by enabling people from diverse backgrounds to easily connect and share their ideas, they can decrease world conflict in the short and long term.

It's a micro example of what I hope is a shift in popular perceptions concerning social discourse and debate. Through Peace Dot on Facebook, you witness users making connections that contradict deeply ingrained social soundbites. I mean how on earth could a Liberal and a Conservative become friends on Facebook? What if somehow, someway they end up talking politics and religion? You can't talk about that. Why? Because politics and religion are arguably the most controversial- and in turn- important issues in our society. So basically, don't talk about anything that's important. What if you realize you don't agree on something? Or (and I shake as I write this) you are from differing political parties? Of course, we imagine violent bar conversations at mind-numbing escalating decibel levels while drunk buddies spew low verbal blows all because they found out their fraternity brother (who they THOUGHT was their brother for life) is a damn tree hugger who believes that global warming is a real threat. Granted, this without a doubt happens (I've hung out in Midtown Manhattan far too many times to know) but it doesn't have to be this way.

I took an Advanced Thinking class in college (insert: pretentious class name) where our professor walked us through an interesting exercise on social debate. He divided the room based on varying stances on very controversial issues and then matched people up based on those differing opinions. One person could only ask questions for the first half (i.e. why do you think you have this belief, what part of your background led you to form this belief) that lasted for ten minutes and then they switched. So instead of the normal unproductive style of discussing intense social issues (where you scream over top of each other and don't listen to the end of what someone is saying because you're about to jump in with your BETTER and SMARTER rebuttal) you're forced to listen. And instead of the conversations being filled with attempted contradictions and interruptions, the two parties reached an understanding that though very different, each opinion on the matter was just in its own light.

Of course the world is a far more complicated place than our sweet little college class in Southern Virginia. There are countless circumstances that lead people to a place where they cannot reasonably argue about their beliefs and last of all discuss them with contradicting parties. We are passionate, volatile, emotional and righteous beings. But we all walk this earth, breathing the same air one beat at a time. We need do a better job at respecting each other's differences, listening to each other's differing opinions and accepting that all of the above is not only okay, but the necessary way to interact.

And if this is all a little too kumbaya for you, your cynicism is welcome but I assure you it's not productive. There are people out there who know that without near nauseating levels of idealism, we wouldn't have enough hope to fight for social change. These people are all part of a massive, motivated and addicting machine that produces real world change despite cultural, socio-economic, religious, regional and political barriers. To name a few: Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes, Scott Harrison of Charity Water, Ami Dar of Idealist, Nancy Lublin of DoSomething, Marvelyn Brown author of Young, Beautiful & (HIV) Positive, Maggie Doyne of, Raj Gilda of Lend-a-Hand India, Dr. Bruce Charash of, Golzar Naghshineh Selbe of Making Waves, Saving Lives, Toby Daniels of ThinkSocial and MacDella Cooper of MCF.

But what do I know? I'm just a wide-eyed youngster who would rather see people get along instead of not get along, and would rather hold the door for a stranger instead of elbowing them to get that last seat on the subway.

Kids these days.