I was scrolling idly through Facebook, as one does, and came upon a post from an acquaintance claiming that anti-gun liberals were putting red light bulbs in their front porch sockets to let everyone know their stance. The post crowed about how this would alert criminals that the house was undefended, and ended with the line, "Leave it to a dumbass liberal retard."
Besides the issue of characterizing about 50% of your fellow citizens as stupid, there's the issue of the r-word, which really sets me off. So I responded, "Keep your ugly invective to yourself."
Within moments, I had two responses, one from a total stranger, who wrote, "LMAO looks like you hurt the feelings of a dumbass liberal retard snowflake." The other was from the original poster, who wrote, "You're saying that's not a stupid thing to do?"
I responded only to the second -- the first wasn't worth my time -- and said, "I question whether anyone would actually do that, or if it's a bullshit claim made purely to ridicule people you disagree with. But that's not the point. The point is that anyone who calls someone a 'retard' has automatically lost the right to claim the high ground."
That prompted another puny defensive response. At that point, I wrote, "Done with you. G'bye," and unfriended the person.
The weird thing was that this didn't end it. She immediately sent me a friend request and a private message, saying, "I hope you don't think that's what I actually believe." I had to read it twice because I couldn't quite fathom someone writing that after what had gone before. I responded, "So why did you post it, then?"
She said, "Because the gun issue really pisses me off."
I decided to try one more time. "That's something we could discuss. But what you posted was a childish insult, not an argument."
Still no luck. "All I'm saying is that the whole issue makes me mad."
Okay, done for good this time. Didn't bother responding, and deleted the re-friend request.
There are a few things about this that appall me.
First, I know we all react in anger sometimes when confronted with dissenting opinions on issues we feel strongly about, and sometimes use language we regret. But the response then is "sorry I offended," or "you're right, that was over the line," or even "my apologies, I'll delete the post." Here, the attitude was more "death before backing down." Note that I didn't even challenge her on her stance on gun laws; we never got that far. All I did was call her on her nasty choice of words, and I couldn't even get her to look at my side of that.
[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]
What this whole exchange did is made me mad enough that I've decided I'm done trying to soft-pedal my own insistence that the people I choose to surround myself act with respect. I have deliberately maintained my contacts with people of varying worldviews -- religious and non-religious, conservative and liberal and every other political gradation -- in an effort to be open-minded and consider other viewpoints rather than locking myself in a world where I can delude myself that everyone thinks like I do. And, to be fair, the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances treat each other kindly and, when they engage in discussion over controversial issues, do so respectfully.
There's the minority, though, who consider their own beliefs unassailable and anyone who disagrees with them hopeless idiots at best and actively evil at worst, and I've been hesitant to call them out because (1) I dislike conflict, (2) I'm of the opinion that online arguments seldom accomplish anything, and (3) I don't want to be one of those people who isolates himself from anyone who holds different opinions and turns every social contact into an echo chamber. But the rather banal exchange over Facebook yesterday made me realize that notwithstanding my desire to listen to other viewpoints, I don't have to let myself get bombarded by bigotry, insults, and ugliness every time I turn on my computer. I wouldn't choose to associate with someone who acts like that in real life; why should I do so on social media?
It's also reminded me that there's a line between listening to dissenting opinions and giving tacit approval to prejudice and vitriol. And while we should all endeavor to do the former, there's no reason in the world why any of us should accept the latter.
So I think I'm going to be a little quicker with the "unfriend" button from now on. I probably will still try to challenge people when they make outrageous statements, but if they refuse to back down, there is nothing to be gained by continuing to listen. At that point, goodbye and have a nice life.
And if that makes me a "politically-correct snowflake," so be it.