So I got this email from a friend recently (names redacted to protect privacy):
I know you aren’t on facebook for Lent, so I wanted to bring you up to speed on something and ask your advice. Last week I asked my friend M on her wall if she would buy some Girl Scout Cookies from P (the emailer’s daughter), even if she didn’t like them she could donate boxes to the troops overseas. She commented back that she would not now, nor ever support the Girl Scouts for their collusion with Planned Parenthood because it violated her conscience as a pro-life Christian and then she linked to all kinds of articles claiming the GSA was supported and supports Planned Parenthood. Wouldn’t a simple no have been enough? How should I respond?
When I emailed back the first thing I said was, “You do realize I agree with everything your friend posted, right?” I have bought Girl Scout Cookies in the past and I was one once upon a time, but that organization bears little in resemblance to the one that exists today and I don’t support the organization as it stands now. The reason that I included the above in my response is that I have found that sometimes, when someone realizes you are willing to listen, the confuse that with your agreement in their argument or belief. In this case, I wanted her to know exactly where I stood on the whole GS Cookie debate.
My advice was simple. Don’t respond to her publicly but out of respect, read what she linked to if you haven’t already and remove your post from her wall. Privately, then I would apologize for not realizing this was offensive to her and you will respect her decision and not ask her again. You did put the query on her wall where all of her friends and family could see it. She probably felt a certain responsibility to stand up for her beliefs in front of everyone, especially if she had not discussed the issue previously with them. In addition, she probably felt that a simple “no” would not suffice because you included the message about donating to the troops. A simple no might have made her feel she would appear unpatriotic or love her country less or something of that nature. I’m not saying anything you did was inherently wrong, but she probably felt forced to do what she did. (I should mention here, I do not know the person who had this posted on her wall only the one who emailed me.)
While I am all for promoting focusing on what binds us not divides us, I realize there are times when we must state our feelings loudly and clear. This is one of those issues for me. While I would have chosen to remove the post from my wall and contact the person privately, I would probably feel pressured to address the issue publicly because of the large amount of Catholic friends and family I have on facebook who would likely see it, possibly before I did. The friend who emailed me was embarrassed and humiliated which I am sure was not the person’s intent but it is a common feeling when you unintentionally bring up a subject you didn’t realize had such emotional value attached to it. In this case, supporting organizations that are in collusion with Planned Parenthood. So, by removing the post and not responding directly–privately– to it and expressing a small apology that you didn’t realize this was an offensive gesture, you show you respect the person even if you do not agree with their belief. I realize that for some people saying you respect them as a person despite a difference in belief is unacceptable. If that’s the case, it’s best to NEVER associate with those people whose beliefs are different from our own. Although, if that is the route you have chosen I do feel the need to point out, our very core we all have our humanity in common so although you may not think there is anything similar there is always that. Polite discourse is always on the menu but divisive, hurtful argument achieves little good. If anything. In the case of the above facebook wall post, the initial contact might have been friendly, but put the respondent in a difficult position of balancing how to defend her beliefs politely with trying to make the person writing the post understand just how strong those beliefs are.
Right now someone has egg on her face, time will wear it away, but in the mean time, there are ways to keep a friendship tested in this way if both parties are listening and respecting one another.