If you hold strong opinions about abortion, breastfeeding in public, gay marriage, gun control, politics, religion, the cartoon Caillou, vaccinations, free range parenting, dress codes for girls, organic foods, non organic foods, semi organic foods, or mommy wars at the playground, you might not want to read the rest of this post. But you probably need to.
Most people can't imagine commanding their friends, acquaintances, or co-workers to "unfriend them" in real life when they don't agree with them about every detail on a trending topic or tightly held belief. So why do we do it on social media? Unfortunately I see this more and more often, especially when every day brings another viral story to our laptops and phones. No matter the topic, someone on either side is blasting the other. Do you use formula instead of breast milk? Unfriend me right now. Do you think guns should be illegal for everyone? Unfriend me right now. Do you think SpongeBob should be allowed on television? Unfriend me right now. The funny thing is, I thought it was called "social media" not "I shout a statement and plug my ears when someone who doesn't completely agree with me wants to converse about it media."
As parents we are called to model and teach our children how to deal with conflict. When we show our kids that a friend isn't worth our time, and a relationship is disposable because of one subject that we didn't even discuss like mature adults, we aren't doing our job as parents. We should be better than that. We must be better than that. We also teach our kids that there is only one side of the story. Are you ok with that? I'm certainly not. This is much of what's wrong with social media today.
Whether you are conservative or liberal, Christian or Atheist, pro-choice or pro-life, those who disagree with you have a right to a differing viewpoint. You also have the right not to listen to them; but is this the best decision to make? When you make an extreme statement such as "totally agree or you're no friend of mine," a few things happen.
First, you are devaluing every other person who doesn't believe exactly as you do. Have you ever considered why others came to the conclusion they did? Have you ever given them a chance to share about the experiences that led to their beliefs? Have you ever given them an opportunity to talk about why they only breastfeed or why they are against abortion? Just as important, have you ever truly listened to their response or do you just try and think of a way to verbally out maneuver them? In other words, have you ever had a real conversation with them that went deeper than that cat video you both thought was hilarious?
The scary thing about real conversations is that many times they bring to light more grey areas than we like to think exist. Things aren't so black and white when there is a personal relationship behind an issue. It's easy to say "unfriend me right now" to your 752 Facebook friends. It's not quite as easy to say that to a person who has bared their soul to you about why they are a Christian, or are against owning a gun, or support gay marriage. That mom at the PTA meeting may be your arch nemesis, but she might also have some good reasons for going to battle for the after school programs that she holds so dear. Plus, if you get on her bad side she can run you over in the pickup/drop off lane at school. Those soccer moms in SUV's are absolutely terrifying.
Another outcome of telling people to unfriend you is that you are saying there is absolutely nothing you can learn from them. Think about that. It takes a pretty arrogant person (or a 7th grader) to believe that they cannot learn one single thing from another human being before a full conversation is yet to be had. Almost every time I've had talks with people with whom I disagreed with, I've come away with at least one small point I hadn't thought of before. When it's all said and done I might be more convinced that my opinion is right, but at least I considered the other side and really listened to what the other person had to say.
Also, what if you are right and through a conversation you give someone else a different perspective on life? What if someone who is convinced that men are stay at home dads because they can't find "real jobs" sees a side to parenting that helps them reconsider their opinion? If they followed through on "unfriending you" before, that change of heart might never have come about.
One simple statement can really show the world, and your kids, what kind of person you are. What will you show them? Instead of unfriending how about engaging? Instead of cutting them off what about drawing people in? Instead of portraying arrogance can you be open-minded enough to admit you could be wrong, even if it's only partially wrong? My desire is to be humble enough to admit that I don't have everything figured out, and I hope that's true for you as well. Let's work together to be parents who don't know everything, and show our kids that we're ok with that, even if the rest of social media isn't.
This post originally appeared on LunchboxDad.com.