How to have a civil social media dialogue about the family

Together we can make Facebook a forum for the exchange of ideas, not insults. Together, we can talk about families, because we've all learned that we're fighting for, not against, each other.

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  • I sat at my computer, scrolling through my Facebook news feed. The longer I did, the more saddened I was by the tone of many of the posts about the family. Couldn't we all be civil, despite the points where we disagree - especially when it comes to families?

  • My social media presence is intentionally neutral or at least uplifting. I do not typically enter into dialogues about hot topics. However, that day, I started a brand new venture. I laid out the basics of my beliefs about families, using all of the tolerance and tranquility I could.

  • I tell you about this for a couple of reasons. One, I believe that each person ought to have a safe place to share the beliefs they treasure, especially about the family. Two, because I was delighted by the response I received, and hope you can receive similar feedback. People have shared my post, affirming my statement and expressing gratitude for my words. Others have disagreed, but done so with incredible sensitivity and eloquence. These people have also expressed gratitude for the composure and kindness I employed in my statement. I was afraid to open up my beliefs, concerned I would face criticism and derision. But it turned out OK. When I received the responses that I did, I was grateful down to my bones for the respect and kindness that was returned to me.

  • While much of the credit goes to the maturity of those who responded, I would like to share the methodology I used in making my statement. That way, maybe you can feel comfortable being similarly transparent. Together we can make social media a forum for the exchange of ideas, not insults. Together, maybe we can truly learn about families because we've all learned that we're fighting for, not against, each other.

  • Acknowledge and mitigate the fears of the other side

  • When people discuss sensitive topics, there is always an underlying fear of dehumanization by the other side. I wanted to clarify from the very beginning that I was in no way trying to express condescension or hate. After all, how can we exchange ideas about families if we are afraid we will be cheapened, insulted and have our humanity ignored? So, be sensitive to how those who disagree might take your remarks. Also, when people respond to you, remember it was brave of them to say something, especially if they were both gentle and genuine. They ought to be honored for sharing, not rejected.

  • Distance yourself from your emotions

  • Emotions may be what motivate you to express your point, but they have very little place in a calm, collected statement about the family. We need more logic and rationality in our rapport. This requires freeing ourselves from anger and fear. If you can't do that initially, write out something impassioned without posting it. Wait a few days, then go back to it and make it into something serene. Have someone who is naturally steady read over it and give you feedback. (My husband was great at this.) We can openly state that we are worried or frustrated, but stating something with an undercurrent of fear and anger will invite response to the emotions, not the content, of our statement about families.

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  • Be careful to identify the boundaries of your argument

  • If you're not careful, your statement may come across like a broad generalization - which will always receive a counter argument. Identify what you're not saying, and choose your words carefully as you identify what you are saying. Sharing your point of view and then giving relevant evidence warrants a deeper, more thoughtful response than a vague and potentially dismissive umbrella statement.

  • Speak with love

  • Our families are the most precious things we have, so we must share our views about them as a gesture of love and concern. The idea is that you want the best for people, you want to do what is right and you want to learn from others.

  • As people who love families and the values that successful families require, it only makes sense for us to share our views. The internet has become the most prevalent venue for exchanging information due to its ubiquity and ease of use. However, we must talk about the family with kindness, respect and clarity if our words are to be credible and persuasive.

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Sara Hagmann is a stay-at-home wife and writer who loves traveling, cooking, and kissing her husband. A lot.

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