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Welcome to Groundhog Day #3—2020 election edition.
We are all anxious, and as that anxiety builds, the social climate temperature seems to be rising, too. As a sociologist, I am acutely attuned to this.
I watch social media and the behavior there (on all platforms). I watch in real-life as human behavior shifts a bit. I truly love sociology. I joke that I am a professional people watcher, and it’s true. Here is what I see as it stands right now.
The division among us is still ugly, and I am unsure whether it will be bridged in the next four years, regardless of count outcomes. I am doubtful it can ever be bridged, honestly. Through my sociologist lens, I sobbed the day after the election in 2016. But not because of who lost or who won. I shed tears because of the horror I was watching unfold.
I ranted before this election day, too, when it was clear our choices for the presidency were so divisive. Disenfranchised demographics of this entire country were not—and have not been—represented in our government across the board. And shame on us for allowing that to go unspoken for so long—for turning on each other instead.
Social media and the ease at which we have access to graphic and meme-building applications have only divided us further. We have found ourselves in a position where our social spheres via social media now include our grandparents, parents, their friends, our friends, our third-grade teacher, and all our colleagues through nearly every job we have ever had. If we imagine our dinner table full of all the folks on our social media, I bet it would look bizarre and uncomfortable.
For all intents and purposes, we have taken the human factor out of our allegedly “connected” society. And that is how we got here, in large part. We blindly share in this imaginary bubble on the ether that is strangely full of people from all different periods of our lives. It has given us an irreplaceable sense of anonymity.
And because of it, we are easily able to devalue our fellow humans and Americans. I make no argument for whether we should or should not have social media, just simply that we forget who is reading when we share our opinions. We forget who is on the other side of the screen.
I have watched my husband put on a uniform nearly every day for the last decade. I have stood on platforms and airfields as Mommies, Daddies, husbands, and wives have boarded a plane bound for the Middle East after hugging their families for what none of us knew was the last time.
Not once, standing on those platforms surrounded by uniform-clad servicemembers, has anyone asked who they voted for. Not once has anyone had any political garb besides the American flag. When we call someone un-American on Facebook via a shared meme because of their political choice, it’s personal.
Last year, my water had broken (PPROM), and my son, my beautiful, very much wanted and loved child, was too premature for life-saving measures to be administered based on the legislation in the state I live in. We found ourselves in a situation that was “termination for medical reasons” (TFMR), a late-term abortion.
If we call someone in that position a baby-killer by sharing memes that reflect a political or religious opinion, it’s crushing. If we say someone is a God-less sinner damned to hell, they will take that personally.
Hurtful, offensive words like questioning our character and telling someone they “expected better” or that they are “rude and ungrateful or disgusting” is a personal attack. In my situation, it would feel like an attack against me, my son, and my family. Because it absolutely was deeply personal.
The thing is, people on the other end are taking our words personally, too. If we can take a pause, the likelihood of these situations diminishes.
But right now, we aren’t pausing because that’s not where our society is. We exist in an internet-fueled fish tank that we flip through while on the sh*tter, for entertainment. When we share hateful words, we forget who is reading them. Almost always, if we take a pause, they are unlikely to be something we would say in a face-to-face conversation.
The tiny thread of hope I see here is that while it may seem as though we have nothing in common, we do. It’s passion—fiery, slow-burning passion. The entire country has caught fire with this passion, and we can see that reflected in the historic number of votes cast for this election cycle.
Among all of this is passion. Passion for humans and passion for this country that we share, regardless of a political party. I have heard so many on both sides tout that they feel as though we do not have a choice here. I am passionately arguing that we do.
We can choose passion and compassion. We can choose to pause before we post. We can choose our words and our actions. We can choose to see a common thread—to work together instead of separately.
We can choose to see each other as humans and not “the other side.” We can choose to envision the human who is our neighbor and our friend on the other side of the screen.
And if nothing else can bind us together, perhaps passion can.