Recently, a friend of mine who has been known to read this blog sometimes shared an article from the San Francisco Chronicle in which she was quoted. The article tells the stories of people who, through DNA testing, discovered that they had previously unknown biological relatives. I would imagine that such a discovery would bring up a lot of very complicated emotional reactions. My friend (who gave me permission to share this article) now has positive relationships with multiple newly discovered half-siblings. But not every one of these kinds of situations has resulted in a happy ending.
One of the other people quoted in this article (not my friend) mentioned having been contacted by a cousin that she had just recently discovered the existence of. The article says that this woman thought that her new relatives “seemed like decent people,” but she unfriended her newly discovered cousin on Facebook and cut off all contact after discovering that her cousin was a supporter of President Donald Trump. My first reaction was that this woman was being shockingly closed-minded and petty. Cutting off family and loved ones, and questioning whether or not they are decent people, because of whom they voted for just seems wrong.
But then I realized that I had been thinking about doing the same thing.
I have some views that are not shared by many of the people in my social circles. A certain such issue has been in the national media quite a bit lately, and I have been seeing many angry Facebook and Instagram posts on this issue. The thought has crossed my mind that I need to do a mass unfriending on those sites, because I’m tired of hearing all this crap and feeling like the whole world is against me. But if I were do that, aren’t I being just as petty and closed-minded as the woman in the article whose response bothered me? Isn’t it healthy to be exposed to different points of view?
Yes and no.
What is healthy is having a fair and respectful discussion on these issues. What is healthy is understanding where those who disagree with you come from, and why they believe what they do. And a few of my friends have been genuinely attempting to do this when they share controversial posts. I have no intention of cutting off contact with any of these. But others are clearly not interested in learning about the opposite side. They might be trying to rally and encourage their own side, or they might be trying to piss off or intimidate the opposition. But reading that kind of thing, especially when it comes with an incorrect characterization of why I stand for what I do, tends to just make me unproductively angry. I will acknowledge, though, that I probably have some misconceptions about their side’s motivations as well.
Should I be cutting off contact? Should I be trying to engage these people in discussions? I think that’s something I’ll have to decide for myself on a case-by-case basis, keeping both their intentions and mine in mind. It should also be noted that many of the people involved I was never extremely close with, and I never see or talk to anymore, because of changing social circles or (in some cases) the other people having moved away. I feel less bad about removing those people from social media as compared with people I see on a regular basis. Also, it should be noted that Facebook offers the option of “unfollowing,” where someone’s posts do not show up in your feed but you stay friends and you can still see their posts if you look for them. Instagram offers no such option as far as I can tell, but I wish it did.
So I haven’t undertaken a mass unfriending or unfollowing yet. And it’s not something I need to decide right now. I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.