There’s a fire racing through Facebook.
This time, the spark came from talk of Syrian refugees. Before that, it was gun control. Before that, some other broad and powerful issue of the day, building an audience faster than the rumor of free Bronco tickets.
By itself, that’s not so bad. Big and important issues should be discussed by a free people, after all. I’ve seen some approach the impromptu debate with thought and care, and I’ve done my best to take part in the same manner.
All the while, I know we’re in the minority.
Most of what happens isn’t a discussion or debate. You know it. I know it. Most of it is a shouting match at best, the verbal equivalent of Mark Twain’s duel with axes at two paces – swing hard and fast, with no particular care for accuracy so long as blood is drawn.
“Behold the power of my inflammatory photograph!”
“Hah-hah! Your photograph is impotent in the face of my video of dubious origin!”
“Oh, yeah? Well have at thee with an unsourced blog post!”
“Pah! Now you shall see the might of my snarky cartoon!”
Sometimes the borrowed memes and images open a new line of thought. More often, they’re an opportunity to raise the voice, plug the ears and carry on, invincible. No listening. No learning. No need for the other person to even be in the (virtual) room.
And thus, a wildfire. Plenty of heat. Plenty of damage. Precious little in the way of useful light.
Please understand: I’m glad that people care. In the face of an issue like this, apathy would be an indictment of us all. I want this to be on our minds and hearts and I know others feel the same.
But how it’s done matters.
If you are one of the people involved, please. Take a moment, or several, before hitting Enter. Take the time to think.
Think about the image, or the video, or the report that you’re about to put out there. Have you checked its accuracy? Does it have identifiable, verifiable sources? This is especially true if it seems to agree with your feelings and beliefs in every particular – these are the items we are least likely to check, because they seem so obvious. (Reporter’s Rule No. 1: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”) If it is true, does it add anything new and useful to the discussion?
Think about what you’re for, not just what you’re reacting to. What can you offer as a next step? If you favor sealing the borders, how do you propose helping those who need help, without putting them at risk of being radicalized? If you favor welcoming the stranger, what do we as a society and as individuals need to stand ready to do, to make sure our aid is more than an empty ‘welcome’ banner and an isolation within a new society?
Think about what the other person is saying and examine where you stand. Have you put yourself in a place that you’ll regret when the passion of the moment has died down? Our history books are full of people who earnestly argued positions that have since been exposed to wrath and ridicule. (One of those, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, is even now the subject of a Broadway production.) Are you so sure that you want to be so sure? Even the unbending Oliver Cromwell himself once implored “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”
Sure, I want to win people to my side of the argument. I’m human and the subject is important to me. But I think calm consideration is more likely to do that than angry sloganeering. If it can’t, then maybe I have a few things to examine of my own.
I’ll take that risk. This is too important to be decided purely by gut impulse. This is the time to think of who we are as a community and a nation, and what we want to be. A “Thinksgiving” season, if you will.
Some fires bring warmth, and light, and inspiration. Please help this be one of them.
Haven’t we all been burned enough?