Since when did disagreeing become synonymous with being disagreeable?
That was the question I asked myself this morning as I read a friend’s snarky Facebook post (followed by even snarkier comments).
The issue isn’t the issue here (though, just so you know, the issue had to do with Whole Foods replacing Hi-Lo, a rode hard and put up rather wet of a grocery store that, despite the wear and tear, was a cultural anchor to my old neighborhood’s many, many Latino residents). And, quite frankly, I’m not sure where I come down on the issue.
The issue is how folks who disagree on the issue are treated. For my friend, she could not believe that 1000 residents had signed a petition opposing Whole Foods. “If only these folks cared as much about (a local) school closing,” she snark-booked—making clear:
a) her belief that you can only stand for one issue at a time (just like, you know, the fact that you can either walk or chew gum!)
b) if your priorities don’t match hers, then you’re worthy of ridicule.
Her friends chimed in. One had been at a community meeting where the “rational people” (aka the ones who support my position) had tried to talk about the school closing Alas, the “rational ones” were thwarted by the–I guess–irrational ones who felt a part of their culture slipping away.
Another person responded that Whole Foods would mean fresh, healthy food. When I pointed out that Hi-Lo had fresh food…well…then the fun really began. “You couldn’t pay me to set foot in that store, it was so filthy” (no doubt in that distinctly ethnic way) Another said “Yeah, I wonder how many whining hipsters (ok, got it now…that’s what we call the un-rational ones!!) actually experienced that store’s unique smell,” chimed in another (I do pray that this man is never exposed to the “unique smell” of, say, Asian markets!)
And on and on it went. Not one pause to wonder what had made 1000 people sign such a petition. Not one thought that among the whining hipsters might be rational Latino residents (who make up approx. 30% of this 30,000 person community). Not one consideration that different priorities do not mean lesser priorities.
Now, I could chalk all this up to the fact that, this time of year in particular, most everyone in Boston is disagreeable because, well, Mother Nature herself has been disagreeable. For about six months.
I could chalk it up to the company I keep (on Facebook at least). Or, more precise, used to keep.
But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s because somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten how to empathize.
We’ve forgotten how to relate. As people. Not only when you agree, but, as important, when you don’t.
We’ve forgotten that, when you strip away all the Facebook posts, the political ideologies, the causes, the this, the that…we’re all really the same. Exactly the same. Sure, we express that sameness in unique ways. That’s what makes us individuals. But, really and truly, behind that individuality is a shared humanity.
Years ago, my boss, Gerry Studds, used to tell me that, when he first ran for Congress (as an anti-Vietnam war candidate) he and his opponents would switch sides in debates to entertain themselves (and the audience) and annoy the press.
They were able to disagree in agreeable, even fun, ways–on matters such as the Vietnam war no less–because they respected each other. Because they never doubted the other’s love for the country or belief in what was right. Because they could see the other’s point of view, even while disagreeing strongly with it.
Hard to imagine such a thing happening today. Not on national matters. Not even, it seems, on local matters like what type of grocery store belongs where or what schools should open…and close.
But imagine if it did happen. Imagine what our grocery stores and schools would be like then. Our communities. Our country. And, yes, god help us, even our Facebook pages!