I frequently tell my students (much to their parent’s chagrin) that college is a time to experiment: Change your major often and fall in love alot. I make this suggestion because finding out what you don’t like is just as important as finding out what you do.
When I was in college, I liked a boy whom we will call Derwood Chickenburger. This was, clearly, not his real name but the nom-de-plume is meant to protect the innocent, who is, in this case, me. Derwood Chickenburger was never innocent.
He was totally opposite of me in absolutely every way: from music to food to pop culture, we fought about everything. We fought especially loudly about politics. In my defense, I was only 19 when we dated and I thought fighting was adjacent to love, and accordingly ours was a good relationship. It wasn’t. But who cared? We were young and foolish and as we aged we lost touch, got back in touch, and realized: “Hey! We were so dissimilar when we were kids and we’re even MORE dissimilar now! How do you like that?”
Well, Derwood likes that plenty because he is my own, personal troll. Every so often, I get a text from Derwood Chickenburger with links about the greatness of Trump, the snowflake generation, and AOC’s socialism. I know what he’s doing: He’s trying to get under my skin and have me launch at him in response, but I always respond the exact same way:
Because here’s the thing: there’s a 50% chance that Derwood is doing this to be a pest because he thinks it’s funny to bug me, and a 50% chance that he really believes this stuff. Either way, engaging him over social media or text isn’t going to do anything except raise my blood pressure. And listen: I’m 50 years old this year so I’m not temping the health gods any more than I have to. I’m keeping my heart healthy through regular exercise, wine consumption, and good cheer. Accordingly, I hit the thumbs up emoji and yell to my husband “Derwood Chickenburger is trolling me again.”
It’s not that I agree with Derwood, nor do I especially enjoy being trolled, but he was (and remains) a really nice guy and I like keeping up with the apolitical stuff in our lives. He has a wife and a son, and he splits his time between one home in the isolated Northwest and another off-shore place “for tax purposes.” See? We are REALLY different people. But we are more than just our politics and it’s not like I have to be married to him, so who really cares?
I frequently hear that people are ex-friending those in their lives for political reasons, and while I believe (strongly) that one should have principles and values, I also believe that cocooning ourselves among the like-minded is going to get us nowhere. It’s good to be friendly with people who are different than us, equally important to try and see the validity in an opposing argument. Shutting someone down over the socials, or typing in FULL CAPS THAT YOU HATE THEM is counter productive. Everyone has a right to free speech — so it’s probably a good idea to remember that “everyone” means “not just me.”
We are quick to be tribal and our angry separations are an actual threat to democracy. People are more than just one thing, and hating someone because they support Donald Trump seems narrow, when there are so many other reasons to dislike people. Especially if they firmly believed David Lee Roth was the best lead singer of Van Halen, which Derwood did, which was illuminating in its own right.