I Went to Facebook Seeking Connection.
Instead, I found Heartache.

I used Facebook for nearly ten years for personal and business use. What started out as fun devolved into conflict. I wanted to share my point of view… I wanted to be heard and understood. But despite all my efforts, I couldn’t make anyone listen to me.

I remember the moment I learned about Facebook. I heard about it from a high school friend I hadn’t seen or spoken with in nearly 20 years. “Check this site out” he said, “it’s awesome”. I dove in and set about reconnecting with people from my past. There were dozens of lost friends from my school days. It was awesome. Over time my “friends” list grew to include hundreds of peers, colleagues, clients, and even a number of folks I’d never met, but I thought I should be friends with because we shared so many of the same connections. Social media was wonderful… I loved seeing pictures of friends and their families, their pets, reading funny memes and taking kooky “personality tests”. It was a good time. 

I recall my first “unfriending”. I had a friend named Adam, and though we hadn’t been terribly close in school we were friendly enough. I don’t recall the specifics of the post and the fallout, as this was over a dozen years ago, but it was a political discussion which suddenly devolved into online shouting. I know I wasn’t looking for a fight, but I felt attacked and no matter how I replied the situation just got worse. My heart raced. I was sick to my stomach. This public display on my “wall” occupied my thoughts for days and kept me up at night. Soon after, I was unfriended by another classmate whose parting shot was an accusation that my brother and I were bullies in high school, and we still were today. That was just the beginning…

As time went along, my “feed” changed and not for the better. Posts became more political, but worse, so many of them seemed hostile to people with my views. I would ruminate for hours, or even days at how to respond to these people who were attacking what I believed in. It wasn’t uncommon for me to spend great effort writing a post or crafting a reply to carefully articulate my views. Despite my best intentions, the typical outcome was a dumpster fire. I got likes from those who agreed with me and accusations from those who didn’t. Misunderstandings emerged at the speed of light. I tried my best to be non-judgmental in my posts… I’m a conflict-avoidant person, who just wants to be heard and understood. Yet the replies made me feel like these Facebook “friends” hadn’t read a single word. I was depressed and angry.

My breaking point came in 2017. In January, shortly after Trump had taken office, I shared a video which appealed to me because it seemed an honest, reflective effort to explain the madness. How could the USA have elected this despicable person to its highest office? I shared the video, thinking it was a valuable perspective that hadn’t been discussed in the media. Though I got some likes and positive comments, I was also derided by some of the very people I’d hoped to reach. My effort to bring understanding instead brought pain. Someone I cared about accused me of being a racist. My yearning to solve problems had only inflamed them. But I still didn’t give up.

I began to type a private message to my accuser. I told her I understood where she was coming from and tried to explain my intentions in sharing the video. My words were honest and reflective, with self-deprecating humor thrown in in my very best effort to extinguish the fire. My olive branch only added fuel to the inferno. Her response made it clear that I hadn’t changed her views; I’d only reinforced them. The breakdown also reinforced one of my growing views. The tragedy of social media is that while it gives everyone a voice, it denies the ability to listen. 

The feeling that no one was listening drove me away from social media. But my desire to hear and to be heard never went away. When I learned about Crossing Party Lines, I was immediately inspired. I dove in head-first and became a volunteer. I am so glad I did. The skills CPL teaches are important and badly needed. Listening, not to debate, but with the intention to really understand the other person, is the most effective tool we have in conflict resolution. Listening is powerful and we need it today, more than ever. 

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    The Two Types of Depolarization

    Depolarization — the work of reducing toxic polarization — is best understood in terms of the two types of polarization that shape our interactions and perceptions in today’s politically charged climate:

    1. Affective Polarization

    Affective polarization revolves around emotions and feelings. It refers to the emotional divide between individuals or groups with differing political views. It’s about how people feel about others who hold opposing ideologies.

    • Us vs. Them: In affective polarization, people tend to see those on the other side of the political spectrum as part of an “us vs. them” mentality. Emotions like anger, fear, and distrust often come into play.
    • Emotional Reactions: When encountering someone with opposing views, affectively polarized individuals may experience heightened emotions. They might feel threatened, defensive, or even hostile.
    • Echo Chambers: Social media and personalized news feeds can exacerbate affective polarization by reinforcing existing beliefs and isolating individuals from diverse perspectives.

    2. Cognitive Polarization

    Cognitive polarization focuses on thought processes and cognitive biases. It pertains to how people think about the views of others.

    • Discounting Opposing Views: Cognitive polarization leads to a tendency to discount opposing viewpoints without critically evaluating them. People may jump to conclusions, assuming that differing opinions lack validity or logical soundness.
    • Us vs. Them (Again): Just as in affective polarization, cognitive polarization reinforces the “us vs. them” mindset. It hinders open-mindedness and intellectual curiosity.
    • Intellectual Echo Chambers: Cognitive polarization occurs when people surround themselves with like-minded sources, reinforcing their preconceptions and avoiding exposure to alternative perspectives.

    The Interplay Between Affective and Cognitive Polarization

    Affective and cognitive polarization often feed into each other. Emotional reactions (affective) influence how we process information (cognitive), and vice versa.

    Breaking the Cycle: CPL recognizes that depolarization  requires us to address both affective and cognitive aspects. Encouraging empathy and  active listening is not enough.  We must also teach critical thinking and intellectual humility if we are to truly bridge the gap.

    About Bridging

    Bridging refers to the intentional effort to reduce toxic polarization by fostering understanding, empathy, and communication between individuals or groups with differing political views. It aims to build connections and discover our shared humanity, ultimately bridging the gaps that divides people along ideological lines.