One of the main functions of any sort of written communication is personal expression. This is how we all share our views and interests on social media and blogs, in (supposedly) private emails, and even in our fiction.
Even in this allegedly illiterate age of digital media, words are very, very important – ironically now more than ever, due to their ubiquity, thanks to the very medium some blame for their impending demise.
The best thing about the Internet is also the potentially worst thing: anyone can have a platform to express themselves to anyone within range of their network. Depending on how one chooses to use this free service – and how the audience decides to react – this accessibility can either inspire peaceful conduct and foster intelligent discussion, or cause harmful and abusive “flame wars” when mutual boundaries of respect are breached.
Since that line is virtually invisible, and since everyone is equipped with their own unique mine fields that can be accidentally set off even by the most innocent remark, the tendency towards destructive conflict rather than constructive conversation seems to overwhelm our better natures more often than not.
Politics – along with religion, sex, and sports – is one of those “taboo” topics generating the sort of passion that often instigates hostile exchanges, even between friends. And if you’re a fiction author, embedding your imaginative work with obvious subjective opinions on controversial topical issues, particularly politics, can alienate your audience, at least the part of it that is reading your work for casual escapism, not intellectual antagonism or moralistic grandstanding at their expense.
For harmony's sake, the decision to air one’s political views in public should always be carefully considered beforehand, though it rarely is, judging by the amount of vitriol poisoning the Internet not just on days like these, but anytime.
If you're a writer, and words are your stock-in-trade, you may need to be as inventive with the method of delivery as much as with the message itself - that is, if you want to be commercially as well as artistically successful, which can be tricky.
Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Brain…
For example, George A. Romero practically invented the zombie genre, starting with his groundbreaking classic Night of the Living Dead in 1968. All of his “Dead” movies are loaded with sly observations about the state of society at the time they were made, without sacrificing the visceral shock elements that attract the generally apolitical horror fan to this genre, along with more socially conscientious gorehounds. Part of his genius is allowing his fans this option. After all, no artist is obligated to provide both.
When writing fiction, that is probably a wise idea too, at least from a strictly commercial standpoint. It’s a matter of maintaining a balance between the personal and the professional.
Likewise, when promoting your fiction on social media, a place where most people “vent,” mixing your political opinions with pleas to purchase your books on the same page – sometimes in the same thread - could backfire, at least with those “offended” by the broadcasting of your views on what they assumed was a page reserved for common interests (your work) alone.
Sadly, unfriending and blocking people from Facebook lists for posting opinions during election season is an all too common practice. The way I see it, one’s voting habits are none of my business. I never hold that against them, as long as they don’t try to force their views on me. At the same time, I don’t censor myself for fear of losing “friends” simply for expressing myself honestly on my own platform, as is my right.
But it is also anyone’s “right” to block me, for any reason. I never really know who unfriends me, or why, unless it happens in the midst of a heated debate – something I now avoid. For me, online political discussions almost always wind up mired in negative feelings, and distracts me from my true love, which is my fiction. So I’ve finally decided they’re just not worth the hassle.
It’s not that I’m trying to be a perfect human being, to the point of arrogance or annoyance. It’s simply a matter of prioritizing my own peace of mind over pointless pastimes that are creatively unproductive.
Agree to Disagree?
But again, that’s just me. If you don’t see it that way, I have no beef with you. Many people actually enjoy healthy debating, thriving on the exchange of ideas, seeking to learn and understand, not just teach and preach. In fact, it’s how civilization continues to thrive, and how humanity struggles to grow. It’s a never-ending process, requiring more patience than many of us can muster at any given moment.
Hey, we’re all just human after all, even when we hide behind our electronic barriers, casting out explosives from the safety of our digital bunkers.
“To each their own” and “live and let live” are two mottos I try to apply to my own interactions on a daily basis, whether with people I actually know or complete strangers.
If you’re respectful enough, some of those strangers might eventually become your true friends. But then if you’re truthful about your views, some of your friends might become strangers, which may lead you to wonder if they were ever really your friends to begin with.
That’s the risk and the reward of being true to one’s self, as a person, as a writer, and as a conscientious citizen.