I’ve been grappling recently with how to communicate on social media with friends and acquaintances when they share posts that are inflammatory. Some posts are obviously designed to sow discord.

They are premeditatedly conceived to get under the skin of a particular group so that as anger or outrage arises, all critical reasoning stops.

That’s brain science – we go into fight, flight, freeze and our ability to respond rationally flies out the window.

Other times posts are shared that have elements of blatant lies that are verifiable. In these cases, I try to respectfully share articles that tell the truth, from non-partisan fact-finding sites.

My liberal friends tell me not to bother.

In a liberal Facebook group that I love, I copied a post from a pro-Trump acquaintance and asked for help refuting her points, in case anyone already had the information about Trump and veterans healthcare. It was really interesting getting replies from this group. They ranged from “don’t bother, you can’t fix stupid,” to substantive content that was super helpful. One member of the group is not only a veteran, but works in the VA system and was able to explain how difficult it is for the veterans that are able to use outside medical care to then get their bills paid by the VA. They end up disallowed, paying out of pocket and hopelessly in debt. It’s a tragedy. Also, only 9 million of the 21 million veterans can take advantage of the policy, which was begun during the Obama administration and expanded during the Trump administration. I didn’t know that information, and I am always grateful to be learning something new.

So… why do I bother?

Why do I take the time to thoughtfully consider this stuff, and do research to see where the truth may be found? Because we are all humans, we are supposed to belong to the same tribe. If we can muster the energy to slow down enough and hear what is important to the other person, and let them know that they matter, maybe, just maybe we can heal this great chasm. We all want to feel safe. We all want to be loved and to give love. Unless we are from a fringe radical group, we want peace.

Recently I took the time to reply to a friend who shared a post that I thought was divisive. The minute I read it, I had that feeling in my stomach that something was wrong. That feeling is intuition that something manipulative and bad is happening not only to me, but to her as well. She shared the post because she feels so out of control with how out of control our world is right now. I totally get that, as I imagine we all feel stressed and overwhelmed at times with our current situation! Our country is on fire inside and out in the middle of a pandemic! The post she shared was about “gaslighting” and it portrays conservatives being gaslit by liberals. I find that interesting on two fronts.

The first is that psychologists have been calling out Trump and his administration for gaslighting the American public for the past four years. There are books and countless (I stopped counting at 30) articles from a wide spectrum of publications accusing the president of doing it and illustrating how he does it. When someone lies, and even gets caught on video and in their tweets and then says it didn’t happen, that’s gaslighting – in other words, when they say that what you are seeing and what you are hearing isn’t true, that is gaslighting.

The second is that if you calm down and pick the Facebook post apart, point-by-point, you can see that it’s nonsense. But it reads so fluidly and sounds so smooth that you get carried away, swept up in the waves of increasing anger or outrage as the refrain about being crazy gets repeated at each of the seven stanzas, causing you to fail to realize that no one is saying the things on the left that the post claims is happening! The author brilliantly touched on the hit parade of hot buttons in the long post, and then nurtured the reader near the end by letting them know that they are not crazy, and they must listen to what is in their heart. Ending with a Sophocles quote, “What people believe prevails over the truth” really is a tragedy!

I’ll share a smidgen of the long slog just so you get the idea…

Me, to her on Facebook:
I just realized what this really is, and it’s amazing. I took it apart paragraph by paragraph, which I imagine no one would take the time to do, and look what happens – I think the 2 sides are mostly in agreement and there actually is no gaslighting. I’m going to copy and paste it from my notes.
Her post:
“We see mobs of people looting stores, smashing windows, setting cars on fire and burning down buildings, but we are told that these demonstrations are peaceful protests. And when we call this destruction of our cities, riots, we are called racists. So, we ask ourselves, am I crazy? No, you’re being gaslighted.”
There has been horrible looting and rioting causing destruction. That is not peaceful protest. That is criminal activity. There have also been peaceful protests. Can you show me who said the destruction is ok? Because I’ve heard it be condemned by both sides for what it is – criminal activity. So here again, we are in agreement, and no one saying you are crazy, so that can’t be gaslighting. It’s this author making you feel like “people” would say that.

I’m going to lump these next two together:

Her post:
“but we are told capitalism is an oppressive system designed to keep people down. So, we ask ourselves, am I crazy? No, you’re being gaslighted.”

“but we are told that Communism is the fairest, most equitable, freest and most prosperous economic system in the world. So, we ask ourselves, am I crazy? No, you’re being gaslighted.”

This again is a difference in ideology, but one that no one running for president is advocating. The Democrats and the Republicans do not want communism. The statement above is inflammatory to get conservatives to think that liberals think that – maybe some do, but not the people running on the democratic ticket. So where is the gaslighting? The author of this (probably in Russia) did a good job trying to make people upset.

Please people… saying liberals are drinking Kool-Aid and that conservatives are stupid and brainwashed is a cop out. That’s an excuse to not do the work to try to understand how we ended up here, and it’s not how we are going to get out of here without tearing each other to pieces.

I remember my mom asking me to show her my tongue when I was 3 years old and she found the Baby Aspirin bottle floating in the toilet. I was afraid to open my mouth; scared that I’d be in trouble for climbing to the top of the closet and eating all the “candy.” She got down on her knees and looked into my eyes and said, “You will never get in trouble for telling the truth.” So, I opened my mouth, showing my bright orange tongue, got serum of Ipecac and a trip to the emergency room.

My wish is that we could all agree that lying is bad, and that telling the truth is good.

That’s a pretty low bar! We learned that by the time we were 3 years old! No one should get a free pass on the core value of HONESTY. If we can still imagine a return to honestly, civility and integrity, I’m hoping that together we can make it happen. Our civilization depends on it. At the end of the day, in the words of the late Ram Dass, I want to believe that “we are all just trying to walk each other home.”

May we ALL be safe, may we ALL be happy, may we ALL be as healthy as we can possibly be, and may we ALL find some ease in these chaotic times.

Please share your thoughts. . .