Facebook is essentially a non-stop party where everyone you’ve ever known is invited, only a fraction of them show up and instead of joining the party, they start their own simultaneous party. It’s a reversal of the compartmentalized life that we live in-person. Therefore, it’s always fun to me when I engage in a conversation with a friend from college, a former student, a family member and a co-worker. However, it gets tricky, because I’m never sure what type of comment will offend a particular subset of friends and if I’m not careful, my Facebook can resemble anti-social media.
So, we gather together a fairly random sample of friends for Joel’s birthday party. It’s not deliberate, really. It’s just that, being six years old, Joel doesn’t categorize friends into separate groups that might be offended by one another. As long as you don’t call him fart face or stupid head, you pretty much remain in his circle of friends.
We’re united, not by religious, political or social affiliation, but for the fact that we’re all pretty fond of Joel and we’re proud of him for staying alive another year. (At this age, it’s not much of an accomplishment, in ninety years, it will be a huge deal). It’s a convergence of our community among friends, neighbors, family and church. Thus, I’m not sure how to navigate conversation among such a diverse group. It’s my home, so house rules should suffice. But it’s not that easy.
I try, at first, to talk about the weather. It’s hot. I get it. Somehow talking about it makes it feel hotter. I try sports. Epic fail. I’ll keep away from politics or religion. And, within a few minutes, I realize that our movie-going experiences are entirely exhausted after talking about a few Pixar flicks.
Somehow the conversation shifts to the quality of a child’s school. When it looks like a potentially intense debate about public versus charter schools (and I’m wondering if it will get into home schooling or unschooling), I ask, “So, what’s the purpose of an education?”
“It’s about learning to think better,” someone says.
“Yeah, but it’s more than just thinking. I want my kids to learn to empathize. I want them to act better. So I guess I want something that’s holistic.”
“I think we’re missing character education,” another parent explains.
“I disagree with you. If you make it that broad, nothing gets done. You want a holistic education? Let the parents do that. You want to instill values, teach your kid values. But when my son goes to school, I want him to learn math and reading and writing.”
“Yes, but that can be within the context of a holistic education . . . ”
And so it goes, a respectful dialogue from a group that hardly knows each other. True, it’s more like a Twitter #edchat than a Facebook wall post, but it’s that rare moments when we get an in-person, small group conversation that challenges each person’s presuppositions on a topic that really matters. And I’m struck that there’s as much or more ideological diversity here in my kitchen than there is in a global #chat.
It has me thinking that perhaps the most powerful part of social media is the potential for us to engage in hard conversations without keeping people in ideological compartments. We have the opportunity to use social media to challenge what we believe if we use it for respectful debate rather than a groupthink echo chamber.