Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I Don't Want to Know You

Let me introduce you to the two teachers I have this summer:
I already know a lot about my accounting teacher. He’s Baptist. He’s Republican. He thinks the progressive tax “punishes the rich for working hard.”  In nothing related to accounting, he challenged us to name one thing where government involvement helped, with the clear implication that we shouldn’t have an answer, so I kept “interstate system, national defense, national guard, NASA, public education, etc” to myself.

In a refreshing contrast, my economics teacher told us, “I won’t tell you what I think, even if you ask. I’m not paid to think. I’m paid to make you think.” And this was during a lecture that actually lent itself to stating opinion (distribution of wealth that best benefits society and our progressive tax). It’s not that I’m against getting to know teachers over the course of a semester, but I appreciate one that focuses the class on class material, rather than making friends with those who agree with him while alienating the rest. 

Noticing the contrast of these two just reminded me that it’s that time of the election cycle to start blocking people with political opinions on Facebook. I don’t mind the occasional political posting. Sometimes the resulting exchanges are quite good, or at least entertaining. But the hype of election year turns nice, normal acquaintances into angry, pushy, uncompromising bigots.

It comes from both sides (though amongst my Facebook friends, there does seem to be more from the conservative side): Misinformation and snarky comments that demean anyone who thinks differently. I’m pretty pro-social networking, but sometimes it’s unsettling to learn the extreme positions people have. And it’s depressing to watch people bicker, more intent on proving someone else wrong than actually defending a belief.  It seems the more posts I see from some people, the less I like them. 

Without Facebook, I’d barely know these people. They’d be someone I say hello to at church in passing, someone I might pick for a group project in class, and someone I remember from summer camp and haven’t seen since. If their names came up in conversation, I’d say I know them and have a generally positive view of them. But I’ve seen too much. I know too much about their weekend binge-drinking, revolving relationships, hatred of gays, hatred of Christians, willingness to post inflammatory things while being unwilling to listen to those who disagree. 

I’m not afraid or ashamed to discuss my religious or political beliefs. But I think those conversations have to be done in context. They are not something you throw out on the first day of class. Personal beliefs make instant friends or instant enemies. Especially during election year, everyone’s a little on edge. No need to fuel the fire. 

Generally, I believe it’s important to get to know people, learn where they are coming from. But when I see so much that I don’t like, I think differently. It’s a lot easier to love those whom you don’t know. You can pretend they are innocent and loving. It’s a lot harder to love someone once you know their prejudices. That’s the hardest part about being commanded to love: we're not commanded to just love blindly, but to know the person, and love him anyway.

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