DEAR AMY: Like many people, I have strong opinions about the state of politics in the United States. But, I’m increasingly concerned about the venom with which people state their opinions. It doesn’t seem to be enough to explain their position and try to persuade others. Instead, they use hatred and sarcasm. Amy, I have friends and relatives on Facebook who post incredibly hateful memes and accusations. I wonder why they do it. Is it really helpful? Yes, I am aware that I can unfollow, unfriend, block, etc., and I frequently do, but the reason I’m there is to keep in touch and see what is happening in their lives. I wish we could use social media for that, not for spewing hateful political messages. Amy, my hope is that we could have a group discussion about this issue, and make an effort to get people to tone down their language a bit. Could we start a movement? Is there anyone out there who would agree with me?
Desperate About Discourse
DEAR DESPERATE: I completely agree with your concern regarding public (and private) discourse. I’ve been tagged on social media for being “too nice,” or trying to push a culture of politeness, at a time where rage is thought to be more appropriate and proportional.
On my own Facebook page and Twitter feed, I encourage civil discourse, and these limited spaces seem to be mainly free from foul language or hate (so far). The community seems to self-police, with some encouragement from me.
I don’t know how to start a movement, but I do know how to use my own voice. I suggest you do, too. Push back, respectfully. Challenge people to find ways to express their ideas and points of view without using hate-charged language.
I welcome feedback about this from readers.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I are in our 30s and live on the East Coast. My entire extended family (15 people) lives in the Midwest. We see my aunts and uncles when we visit my parents twice a year. I talk to my parents, brother and grandmother on the phone regularly, but I would like to develop a closer relationship with one aunt and uncle, in particular. They don’t have kids of their own. They’re great role models and they’ve always made gestures toward me. They taught me how to cook and bake from scratch. In graduate school, I received Christmas decorations they were getting rid of. (This was a huge deal to me, and a complete surprise at the time!) Recently, as they’ve begun to downsize, they’ve been giving my husband and me things we might use, including some items that have been in the family for generations. They’re not big on email or texting, and I’m not big on Facebook. Do I swallow the awkwardness and call them out of the blue? How often? How do I tell them that I want to reach out more? I know my grandmother appreciates my random “Hi, how are you?” calls. But saying, “Hi, I’d like more of a relationship with you,” is not a sentence I’m going to say, even if it’s re-phrased. How to start?
DEAR NIECE: Thank you for prompting me to extol the virtues of the aunt/uncle relationship. My own experiences with my many aunts have inspired me to try to be a good and engaged aunt, too. And it is such a joy!
Your aunt and uncle are offering you many reasons to call: to thank them for the gifts they are sending. Then you can call at other times, to say, “I just used that pie plate you gave me, and it made me think of you. Do you have time to catch up?” or, “Christmas is coming and I just got out my decorations. I’m going to send you a picture of our tree...” On your calls, “gossip,” share information about your life and ask them theirs’ and other family members.
If they are active on Facebook, perhaps you can rev up your dormant account, only to keep in touch with them.
I hope you will also write to them. Postcards, notes and letters are great ways to forge tighter connections.
DEAR AMY: Thank you for emphatically urging “Worried Wife” to keep her young children out of the home of a sex offender! Just because this offender is their own grandfather doesn’t make them any safer, in fact, it makes them more vulnerable.
DEAR ALSO: Absolutely. This is a dangerous situation.