COLUMN: Don’t let this be another nasty New Year

Step away from the angry forums of social media

We’ve got two significant elections this year in Canada, both of which will impact the entire country.

The provincial election in Alberta will happen sometime in the spring, the federal one in the fall. Both sides of the aisle are revving their engines and as confrontational and divisive as our politicians can be, we the people have become so much worse.

One of the best decisions I made last year was to leave Facebook and Twitter. I did it because I could no longer ignore how people were talking to one another. I wasn’t able to make the separation from a nasty thing somebody posted and their smiling greeting in the grocery store. We’re not even trying to hide our hatred. We pretend it’s all legitimate outrage, but action speaks louder than words.

Outrage is an addiction. We’re salivating at the feast. We’re pretending it’s because we’re righteous in our beliefs and opinions, but in reality, we’re just kids on the schoolyard. If we’re not actually throwing punches, then we’re standing on the sidelines, yelling “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

And we’re enjoying it, otherwise we’d walk away.

Three years ago, a friend shared on Facebook a false story about Syrian immigrants. It was easy to find the truth and I told him it was fake. I didn’t call him names, or swear, or attempt to humiliate him. He hasn’t spoken to me in real life since. I’ve said “Hi” when I‘ve run into him but I just get a short response or nothing at all. I’ve avoided gatherings of mutual friends now because I don’t want to make it awkward for them.

This is happening everywhere. The things we share online are dividing us in real life. Families, friends, and neighbours. Close relationships are being irreparably broken because of differing political and cultural opinions. We don’t talk anymore about our differences and we certainly don’t want to hear another’s perspective.

If you don’t agree with my opinion, you’re a stupid idiot.

When did we collectively accept this?

This isn’t our politicians. This is us. We’ve chosen to behave this way, and it’s getting worse.

You can’t change other people. You are entitled to your opinion, just like everybody else. Angry arguments on social media or news site comment sections, these don’t change opinions. Nobody will be reconsidering their vote because you called them stupid, or libtard, or redneck.

Please consider the impact of your words. Everybody is going through something and is hurting in some way. Most of the time, you won’t even see it. Anger is most often a mask for pain. If somebody says something you disagree with, please take a moment before responding and ask yourself if your input is going to make a situation better or worse.

Does it really matter if a stranger supports a political party that you oppose? Do you expect you will change their mind with an angry insulting comment?

Somebody once said, “how you spend your days is how you spend your life.”

How much of your time would you spend having angry arguments online with strangers about politics if you knew you only had a month left to live? How do you know you don’t?

This year will be challenging because it’s going to get nastier, at home and abroad. You won’t agree with everybody on everything. That’s impossible because we’re all living a different experience.

Please exercise a little compassion for your fellow human beings. Kindness is a choice and it’s worth the effort.

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