The quotation “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company” has been repeated so often that its original source is long forgotten. And nowadays the wisdom of this advice goes unheeded, especially, I find, when email is involved.
Please don’t get me wrong: I enjoy civil discussion on those topics, but that is hard to come by. Tempers grow heated and no one’s views are changed. Many of us would do well to remember that according to Emily Post (and who should know better than she?): “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” So we avoid politics and religion in conversation in order to avoid making other feel uncomfortable. I, for one, feel intensely uncomfortable when (in polite company, which doesn’t necessarily mean your nearest and dearest friends and family, though perhaps it should) political ideas with which I disagree are loudly voiced in my presence. I don’t want to get into an argument, so I usually try to stay quiet, unless my opinion is directly requested.
But what constitutes “polite company” online? When is it okay to write about politics and religion and when is it not?
Emily Post is no longer with us, but I have my own ideas on this topic, so here goes:
Rather obviously, if you have a blog, write what you want. People can choose to read or not, and to join in the conversation or not. People should feel free to disagree with anything written on a blog, and to comment thereupon, as long as they do so politely (which of course should apply to anyone anytime they disagree with anyone ANYWHERE!).
On Facebook, I consider a person’s Wall to be their personal space. Therefore, they should be able to post anything they wish there. Again, you have the ability to hide certain posts or even unfriend them if you find them offensive. While I post religious and political items on my Wall, I try not to post things that are inflammatory. I realize some of my Facebook friends may be offended by my very opinions, but I try not to express them in an offensive way.
If I post something on my Wall, I should expect that others may comment on it. When friends of mine post things I disagree with, I almost always just stay away. (Of course this depends on the person and on how reasonable and calm I perceive that they are.) If I am not going to change their minds, I don’t wish to alienate them or start a fight. One exception is when they have posted something demonstrably false, and then I may post the Snopes link, although even that seems to irritate some people. Or sometimes people WANT a discussion, and then I will weigh in. And I actually love when people comment on my political and religious posts, because I have a lot of friends who disagree with me, but who know how to have a civil discussion, and since I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that in real life, I think it’s great! Maybe I will learn something from them, and maybe, just maybe, I may make them think a little too!
Now that I’ve been all reasonable, it’s time for the rant. I DO NOT LIKE IT when people send me political or religious or both combined (which is the worst) emails, especially when I am reasonably certain that they know I am not in full agreement with the sentiments expressed therein (or if they don’t know me well enough to know!). Since I would think by now BECAUSE of what I say on my blog and what I choose to post on my Wall most of my friends should have a fair idea of where I stand on most political and religious issues of importance, these emails taste of proselytization.
Yes, sending me an email like that (and how many of them are provably false anyway?) is tantamount to knocking on my door and asking if I’ve been saved, or seeking my vote for your political candidate. Except that those people are strangers, not my friends.
My husband says I am overreacting, and maybe I am. (Feel free to tell me in the comments!) But when a Catholic friend sends me an email implying that I should vote a certain way in November, I feel that I am being told I am not Catholic enough. (Am I “Catholic enough”? That will be a subject of another post!) That a “real Catholic” can only have one viewpoint. That if they just give me enough information I am bound to think the same way they think. (Whom did I vote for in the last election? For whom will I vote this time around? Take a wild guess and you will probably all be wrong. More on that in another post.)
Unlike a Facebook post on your own Wall, I interpret an email in my inbox as an opening remark in a conversation. And if you want to start that conversation by sending me something that isn’t true, or that makes me feel like you are trying to send me some kind of message, or that misinterprets facts (and I do investigate any allegations or assertions that arrive in my inbox), chances are you are going to receive a return email from me with my response to what you have asked that I read or watch. So if that’s not a conversation you wish to have, please think before you hit send.