This week I got into a fairly robust debate on Facebook. I don’t normally engage in such pursuits because nine times out of ten there is no winner. But this time I couldn’t resist. The antagonist was my SIL’s brother, a man I don’t know particularly well but over the past few years our paths have crossed thanks to my SIL. And the topic was this:
Posted up on Facebook along with the comment Too F’kn Right, it was designed to be controversial and evoke a response. My SIL got in first and went hard. She could. She’s his sister. I on the other hand was a lot more tactful but fairly straight up. We batted backwards and forwards over the course of the day. Even one of his friends entered the fray, which, as far as I’m concerned – the more the merrier. But it ultimately ended with me suggesting that we agree to disagree and called it a stalemate. After all, I have to sit around a campfire with him this Christmas and whilst I’m looking forward to The Debate MkII with him in December, I don’t want to ruin my own Christmas break in the process.
My actual interaction with him was fairly respectful (the battle between him and his sis on the other hand got a bit testy!) but I got to thinking afterwards about how reluctant people are to engage in healthy respectful debate. There is no question that there is a plethora of people willing to go in hard and tear people down with harsh comments or words that can easily be misinterpreted on social media, especially on Facebook. But it seems to me that this has created a barrier for people to put forward their ideas on anything.
I love engaging in a good debate. I enjoy offering up my smarts up against someone who clearly has a completely and utterly different opinion from my own and seeing if there is any chance of having them change their mind. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t, but it’s the pitting of words and opinions and arguments that I enjoy the most. Sadly, I think the keyboard warriors out there that like to fire off antagonistic pot shots or troll the feed to get a bite, have contributed greatly to an atmosphere of fear where people are too afraid of putting their thoughts out in the open lest they get attacked for it. I’ve been in that position too. It’s part of the reason I very rarely engage in the debate over Facebook. Face to face, not a problem, but when typing through social media so much can get lost in translation and you know you’re on a highway to nowhere.
But to what end? Ultimately, what we’re left with is an environment where people never call out the poor behaviour of others, who either perpetuate hate and negativity, staying silent and letting them get away with it. I’m not suggesting that people should be posting up a retaliatory you’re wrong and I’m right responses every time they see something that is controversial, but I wonder if the world can do with a little more debate. A debate, where someone puts forward an argument that has been well thought out and articulated in the hope that they might be able to get someone to either change their minds or respect the fact that there is actually another viewpoint to consider.
Instead, I see so much reactive, emotive diatribe on social media, which occurs seemingly because everyone else does it so that makes it ok. It often rears it’s ugly head as ‘mummy wars’ where mums fight it out over a number of various hot topics (things like Stay-at-home Mum v Working Mother is usually one to get people fired up), never conceding ground as they ‘fight or die trying’ in their quest to push some forward mythical ‘side’ in the war of who’s right and who’s wrong. And generally it’s this uncompromising, winner-takes-all approach that makes headlines when someone has an opinion and hundreds if not thousands of people jump on the bandwagon of shaming, ridiculing or abusing the original poster with no ‘debate’ or independent thinking involved.
Sometimes I can’t resist the opportunity to challenge people’s thinking and like to think that I do so in a respectful manner. There are many things that I’m passionate about but only a few that I’ll engage in any kind of debate about on social media. And for me, hate borne out of misguided or misinformed viewpoints is one of them. I’m not fussed if you don’t believe that Caitlin Jenner is worthy of receiving an award for courage; everyone is entitled to their opinion, but every time people post up memes such as the one above they are telling the world that it’s ok to judge and compare the actions of things that really are incomparable. And so, the culture of judging and comparing and lambasting and vilifying others continues.
For the record, I disagree with the meme and associated status update above. I can understand the viewpoint that it’s coming from but at the end of the day there are all kinds of courage. The dictionary definition of courage is In my view, comparing a soldier at war to Caitlin Jenner receiving a courage award is like comparing apples with horses. In my view both are courageous and in Caitlin’s case I think she is showing great courage in shifting perceptions and stereotypes, especially in sport. I agree that she’s not saving lives or going to war, but she could quite easily be sitting on her arse, or hiding out in some luxurious hideaway with all her millions, dressing up in private and hiding who she is – watching life by the sidelines. But she’s not. Instead, she knows that she has a paparazzi pack hounding her every move and has decided that maybe she can use that to her advantage and ours. And if she’s making money out of well, that’s a bonus for her I guess.
Societal change happens when understanding and compassion tips the balance of acceptance towards the minority. When things that used to be taboo simply become normal. When I engage in debate, I don’t normally disagree with someone simply to shit-stir. In this particular case, I disagreed because for different reasons, they both display courage. One day, someone I know and love or as I pointed out in my argument that my SIL’s brother might know or love, could very well be in a situation where they don’t know their place in the world and could do with some compassion and understanding of their differences. Whether people believe its ‘just a popularity thing’ (as was the rebuttal), or not, surely better understanding and awareness and a plea for people to just treat people with kindness and respect in spite of our differences is a good thing?
I only recently saw the video of Caitlin’s speech at this awards ceremony (which I thought was very articulate and well presented) and was shocked to hear statistics within the LGBTI and in particular the transgender community of people being discriminated against, abused and in extreme cases killed all around the world. My SIL’s brother believes that being transgender is ‘socially acceptable’ in this day and age, and when challenged he argued ‘well it is in Hollywood’. Not being a part of the LGBTI community I can’t say that I know the ins and outs of the issues faced in detail, but if there is even one person being killed because of their orientation then that to me would indicate that it’s not ‘socially popular’.
I agree that a soldier fighting for a country is a different example of courage to what Caitlin Jenner is displaying but I would argue that if her platform to share her experience changes just one person’s perspective about how he/she treats or relates to the transgender (or broader LGBTI) community then her courage has resulted in something worth celebrating. In my view, it’s no different to what Rosie Batty is doing with the conversation she is creating around the topic of Domestic Violence. She’s using her very real life experiences and perspective to start, engage and encourage conversation about a topic that many may not relate to. May not relate to but have the power to influence. That point didn’t resonate at all with my SIL’s brother. I guess it just so happens that more people can relate to domestic violence than transgender issues.
But quite simply, it comes down to this – debate is essential for society to evolve. Debate is necessary to inform, shape and mould the generations of the future. We should never fear the opportunity to put forward our opinion and engage in debate, in whichever topic inspires or creates passion in us to do so. I would never attack someone for having an opinion, even if it was different to my own. But I will challenge their thinking and remind them that the fact that we can engage in a discussion, a conversation or a debate is a positive thing. There are some people in the world that would give anything to be in the position to do so. Because challenging the status quo and engaging in the debate is what changes ill-conceived or misinformed beliefs in society. Whether the topic is about sexual/gender orientation or domestic violence or marriage equality or hate crimes against races/women or discrimination against people with a disability or whatever socially uncomfortable topic that still exists in our society, talking about it and having constructive debates is what actually changes our collective society’s thinking and allows people to accept other’s differences.
After all, people once thought the world was flat and that those who challenged the notion were on a one-way trip to crazy-town.
Do you engage in debates on social media? Has there ever been a time where it’s gotten completely out of control or have you been able to declare a stalemate and move on respectfully?