You Talkin’ to Me?

“We the People”  love the First Amendment, and during this political season, we especially enjoy the right of assembly and the right of free speech the

First Amendment, You Talkin' to Me? Brad W. Smith photographer, LifeIsHOTBlog, carved, lighted pumpkin on brick pillar with copious seeds and stringy pulp

Some people mistakenly believe spewing a viewpoint is the same as engaging in true conversation.

amendment affords. These two rights sometimes merge on the Internet, and no where more easily than on Facebook. Some people spend so much time there bashing any ideas, candidates and party not aligned with their own views, they have no time to listen to the views of anyone else.

Of course, these people are not interested in listening. They are not intent on establishing a connection with me. That’s the truth that bears further consideration. If they were interested in being truly connected to me, I’d tell them that spewing at me on Facebook is no more effective than yelling at me face to face. It’s not a conversation, it’s a tirade. And they are tyrants. They have worn out their welcome with me. They have done nothing to move me to their point of view because nowhere in their incessant spewing is a rational argument for a particular course of action or candidate. It’s the equivalent of school yard taunts, designed to bully and hurt, nothing more. It’s as if they’re saying:

Think the way I think and then

I won’t be hurtful to you any more.

No doubt you have your own acquaintances who are trying your patience in this same way. You may be as irritated as I about the outright lies told about current laws or proposed policies. You may be put off by the disrespect shown to candidates and the elected positions they hold or hope to hold. You may well have decided to unfriend them, as I did. Then, I thought about it for a bit. Was I dismissing them because I don’t agree with them, or was it because of something more?

Facebook and the First Amendment

Turns out, it’s so much more. The answer may surprise you.

  • First, I wondered whether my vociferous friends would speak to me in person the way they speak to me on Facebook?
  • Second, did they truly believe their efforts would persuade me?
  • Third, I realized that in rushing to tell others what we are supposed to think or do, they have forgotten that the first step in a relationship is to listen. Only after listening should we talk. Should I have been the one to listen more? It’s hard to hear what people are saying when they are being disrespectful or their words are lies designed to instill fear and doubt.
  • Fourth, I remembered that respect in listening and in speaking are key to real communication. That’s what brought me up short. The truth is, fundamentally, these people do not respect me as a thinking person with a right to my opinion.
Free Speech with Respect

Knowing another person respects and understands my viewpoint, while not agreeing with it, is the key to unlocking any real dialogue between us. Without dialogue, we cannot form a real relationship. Note, whether we hold the same political views is of little concern to me. In fact, I like to hear views that are contrary to my own because it makes me think harder about what I believe and why. I’ve changed my view about several things over the years because of well-thought opposing opinions.

Each time, it was because I was honest with myself that there are valid points of view that differ from my own, and I needed to open my mind to hear the truth as others believe it to be. Until we can do this, we cannot listen. And those who cannot listen should not speak.

Did I unfriend my Facebook pals because I don’t agree with them? No. I did it because while they do not respect me, I respect myself. When we define our boundaries, we communicate self-respect and self-love. These people aren’t just disrespectful of ideas that are contrary to their own, they are disrespectful of the people who hold these ideas. By unfriending them, I have said: to be my friend, you must treat me with respect.

That is my First Amendment.

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Filed under Amendments, Listening, Respect

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  7. Brava! So well written. I thoroughly admire how you were able to think through this thorny issue and then act on it. I’m still in shock over some of the truly brutal comments “friends” made on my FB page this election season. I vacillated constantly over whether or not to unfriend these people, but in every case chose instead to make the effort to engage in reasoned dialog with them. I did this because I believed (1) that unfriending them was the coward’s way out, and (2) that the “right” (as in, most effective as well as most ethically defensible) course of action was to model the behavior I hoped to see them exhibit. I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong. It would have been more courageous, more effective, and undoubtedly less psychically exhausting to have simply unfriended them. As you said, that would at least have conveyed the message that I respect myself enough not to tolerate their lack of respect. I believe that is the only message they might have been able to hear, and as such, it was the only one worth sending. Thanks so much for posting this – it has really helped me sort some things out for the future.

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