By Julie Provost
This past political season was a rough one. Not only did we have a messy election, but social media engagement is higher than it has ever been, even compared to four years ago. Even though the election’s been over for more than four months, almost everyone is online and sharing their opinions, especially on Facebook.
As I look through my Facebook feed these days, I see posts from the left, posts from the right, and posts from everything in between. Some people only publish political posts, others do so every once in awhile, and some leave politics completely off their social media profiles.
Pigeonholing people into groups based solely on their social media posts is way too easy to do; I know I am guilty of that. The conservative, the liberal, the person who doesn’t seem to care. . . Social media has a way of making you assume you know someone, only based on what they post. To a certain extent, this is true. Why would someone post something that didn’t mean anything to them? On the other hand, people are more complicated than that. People are more than just a social media post.
As a milspouse, I have made friends from all over the country, from all types of backgrounds and all kinds of belief systems. And for most of these people, our relationship goes far beyond the politics of our social media posts. We might not agree on much politically but we both love Bunco and iced coffees, and when we get together in-person, a lot of what we could argue about online doesn’t matter anymore.
We need to remember that people are complex. Not every liberal feels the same way about all issues and not every conservative agrees exactly with their other conservative friends. Many people are in the middle, and even if they do post something from one side or the other, they would be hard-pressed to describe themselves as anything other than as an American who believes in doing the right thing.
As polarizing as the last year has been, what if we looked beyond the political posts and found the person behind them? How can we do this and make friends in our community? How can we relate to people that we don’t quite understand? Here’s how you can do that on-base and off.
Connect over what you have in common. Do you both like to bake? Are you both runners? In many cases, the person who is the polar opposite of you politically could be your new best friend as you bond over something you both enjoy.
Leave politics out of it. If you know that you don’t agree on a lot of political issues, you don’t have to bring them up. If they do and you feel the discussion has taken an unfortunate turn, feel free to change the subject or walk away. As we interact with other people in our milspouse life, we need to feel free to say that we simply are not interested in discussing that at the moment.
Think the best of others. There is a reason why the person who is your political opposite feels the way they do. If you are curious, ask. As a general rule, try to think the best of the people you meet. You don’t know their story or what they have been through. Their past could be a big reason why they believe what they do.
You don’t have to be friends with everyone. Sometimes, even a shared love of a television show isn’t enough to bridge the political gap. That is okay, too. You don’t have to be friends with everyone. If someone else’s political beliefs are impossible for you to be around, you don’t have to push it. Not everyone is meant to be friends.
Talk politics respectfully. Sometimes the most fulfilling conversations are between two people who don’t see eye-to-eye on certain issues but can discuss them respectfully. When we hear what people have to say and why they believe what they do, we can better understand how we can work together to improve our communities and our country.
Use your Facebook settings. Is your daughter’s best friend’s mom your political opposite and you can’t stand her Facebook posts? Unfollow. Use your Facebook settings to save your relationship. You can still connect with people offline and have relationships with them without having to see all of their political posts.
Community is important to milspouses and by only focusing on our political beliefs, we can be ignoring the very people we could be walking with through this life. Let’s go beyond social media and find common ground so we all can learn from each other and become better people through those experiences.
Julie Provost is an associate editor at Military One Click and a National Guard spouse. She can be reached at email@example.com.