Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mixed Company

Don't talk about
politics, religion, or sex.
I think we need to start applying old manners of decorum to our social media posts. Unless all of our friends on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Google+, Manta, Naymz, etc. (I really need to get off some of those) are like-minded to the point of identify, it's probably not a good idea to impulsively put up every little thought that pops into our feverish brains.

Back in the old days--and I mean really old days--there was a rule of thumb that if you were in mixed company you didn't bring up three topics: politics, religion, and sex. Most people with a reasonably developed forebrain understood this instinctively. The chances were pretty good, for instance, that if you were at a family gathering, some of your relatives would have differing and strongly held views of these three topics. And so you'd leave it alone and talk about something less inflammatory, say, recipes for rhubarb, or your irritable bowel syndrome.

But you'd know your audience. You'd know, for instance, that your uncle was a hyper-gunslinging-every-man-for-himself-cold-dead-fingers conservative and your aunt was a hyper-tree-hugging-war-never-solved-anything-militant-vegan liberal. So you'd know not to bring up certain subjects, at least for the duration of the meal.

Why doesn't this social common sense seem to apply to our social media then? Is it because we can't see the people around the table when we shoot off our mouths?

When most people post something on Facebook, it goes to all of their friends and family, even Aunt Treehug and Uncle Chainsaw. You may be incensed about what the Supreme Court just ruled on, or about what fatwa was just issued by some religious body, but consider your audience before you fire off that diatribe.  I understand Google+ has created a way for you to hermetically seal off various constituencies of your friends by assigning them to "circles". But how many of your friends and family are that easily circled? People aren't jelly beans.

It's better to just think before you speak (or post).

Don't Antagonize, Persuade

That's not to say that you can't have a spirited debate online. But your goal in any debate should be to persuade, not to alienate. It doesn't help your argument, for instance, to start off saying, "That socialist in the White House..." or "That idiot running for president..." Going ad hominem early rarely persuades. It just alerts your audience that you are closed minded and have already run out of cogent points. So it closes their minds to anything further you have to say. It may feel good to spew an insult (and Lord knows, I enjoy a good one from time to time) but you win nobody over.

Of course, if your object is to merely get amens from the choir, then ad-hominem away. Or if you want to flush out the heretics from you friends and get them to unfriend you, by all means, keep insulting them. But that's not persuasion either. That's just walling yourself in with the True Believers.

Ask yourself, has anyone ever won you over to their side by insulting you, or insulting your beliefs? Well, believe it or not, most people are like you; they aren't persuaded either. So if you are going to bring up politics or religion, keep it civil. And respectful. (You probably should still avoid bringing up sex, though.)

Speaking of Religion

If you're religious, good for you. But realize that many people, including people quite close to you and listed as "friends" on your Facebook page, may not be. Or they have very different beliefs. You may wring your hands in anguish at their damned souls, but you'll have zero chance of saving them by chasing them away. Again, think about persuasion. And think about the sixth Unbreakable Rule of Marketing: Give Love to Get Love. (Uh oh, shameless plug alert!) If you want people to love you, and therefore listen carefully to what you're saying, then don't piss them using the phrase "piss them off".

Saint Paul talked about this marketing principle two thousand years ago. If my old catechism memory serves, he went around telling people to lighten up, to not condemn people because they weren't Christians yet, but to respect them, respect their peculiar idiosyncrasies, and respect their quaint beliefs. He rediscovered the old (even then) principle that if you give love, if you live your own life in a loving way, if people see you in a state of grace, you'll have a much better chance of winning them over than if you stone and crucify them.

It's funny how many Christians during the last two thousand years have ignored that simple marketing principle. But fortunately, enough of them have believed in it to keep the enterprise going for a couple of millennia. Because it works.

Of course, I probably misremember that catechism lesson. He might have said, "Kill 'em all. Let God sort 'em out." It was a long time ago. And it was in mixed company.