I did it. I unfriended a Facebook friend. A person who was a peripheral part of my friend group in high school. A person who re-entered my life through Facebook years ago. A person who I have seen in person about five times in the last eleven years, but who I conversed with regularly on Facebook. This is a person who is the poster child for some of the awfulness of the GOP. He will tell people in “private” that he hates Trump, but takes to Facebook repeatedly to defend him, and to belittle those who criticize (in the same kind of name-calling tone that Trump embraces). He considers himself to be socially liberal, and fiscally conservative, but he genuinely believes that he is discriminated against for being a white male. The string of text messages calling me a “pussy” that followed (and led to me blocking his phone number also) made me more comfortable in my decision, but I still have mixed feelings.
Here’s the thing. I like different opinions. I like it when people challenge my beliefs. I really do. I want the opportunity to have to defend myself and see if I actually can. This friend was that for me. I tolerated his awfulness, and his penchant for making threats of violence against me and other FB friends. I probably shouldn’t have, but there was value for me, so I kept him around. I suspect that nobody will fill that role now that he’s gone. He was one of the few left who bothered discussing things with me (I’m a bit tireless in my need to discuss and debate — I imagine I’m an acquired taste).
But there’s a lesson in all of this, one that I try to watch out for: what things about ourselves or others do we incorrectly attribute to something else? Let me explain. This “friend” who I unfriended claimed that I was intolerant of any views with which I don’t agree. The exact words (after I wrote, “I’m kind of done with you”) were “[I]f someone has a different opinion they’re a dick? Really? I think that makes you a complete and total pussy. Be done pussy.” To be clear, it wasn’t any difference of opinion that upset me. In fact, I love differences of opinion. What I hate and can’t tolerate is purposeful antagonism. What I hate and can’t tolerate is being cruel for the purpose of being cruel. What I hate and can’t tolerate is putting words in my mouth and then attacking me for those words (which weren’t mine).
This kind of false attribution is easy to see from the outside. Take our “friend” above. As I mentioned, he’s a white man, who is convinced that he’s the victim of reverse discrimination, and that it’s impossible to get a government contract in his (and my) city if you are a white man. Never mind that according to public records, a minority of contracts are granted to women- or minority-owned businesses. When shown those data, he illogically said that they were fake data to make the mayor look good (which didn’t make sense, because the mayor’s goal has been to increase the number of contracts to women- or minority-owned businesses; so, if anything it makes the mayor look like he’s failed at that goal). It’s far more likely, however, that he can’t get government contracts because he had businesses shut down for illegal activity and settled with the State Attorney General. But he thinks it’s because he’s a white man. He’s not alone in this kind of false attribution. I know women who think they’re left off committees because of their sex, when it’s really because the last few times they were on committees all they did was complain about the burden of being on the committee (and refused to help remedy the problem the committee was formed to solve).
But how much of this applies to me? In what ways do I blame things on the wrong things? These are the questions that keep me up at night.