Why take the flak for the politicians?

By Neil Patrick

Politicians won't like this post. At all.

Whether its Trump vs. Clinton, Brexit or Remain, gender politics, millions of people every day are busy making themselves enemies online by taking a stand for their political beliefs.

Do we really want to lose friends and make more enemies by doing politicians' dirty work for them? If you do, that’s fine. Stop reading this right now, because you’ll probably hate me when you have. And I really don’t want that to happen. Honestly.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is good to stand up for what you believe in. UNLESS it’s your political views AND you are doing it in public. Then we make ourselves targets for everyone who doesn’t agree with us.

And in the online world, one thing is a sad fact of life; many more are quick to attack than are quick to praise.

But I’m not talking about the morons who troll people. If we are adults, we should be able to take trolls in our stride, regardless of how venomous and threatening they appear.

No, I am talking about others we are connected to online who just like us are good, decent, honest people who mean well. They just don’t share our political views. That’s all.

If your social media presence in any way involves anything other than chatting with family and close friends, there are lots of things which could go on a list of don’ts. And we’ve mostly seen these many times before:

Don’t abuse others. Don’t criticize people. Don’t be a bigot. Don’t be racist, sexist, ageist or anything else which ends with ‘ist’.

Don’t be cruel. Don’t endlessly advertise yourself. Don’t share junk.

Don’t ignore others. Don’t be unkind.

Basically, don’t be an ass.

If you have intelligence and integrity these things are pretty obvious. And they are as much sensible rules for life as online behaviour.

But there is one thing that isn’t on this list which I think should be:

Unless it’s your job, don’t discuss your political opinions in public online.

We all have our political views. And I know some very fine people on social media who do this a great deal and have a lot of followers.

But the problem is that when we discuss politics online, for every person who agrees with us there will be most likely one or more, who doesn’t.

Do you wish to alienate yourself from them just because you have different political views? Some of my best friends over the years have completely different political opinions to myself. And we have enjoyed many fierce debates together.

But these are people I am close too. People whose opinion of me is based on long-standing relationships based on mutual trust and respect. People we have these close relationships with will not suddenly spurn us because we don’t agree on a political point.

These people have a multi-dimensional relationship with us. That relationship is usually a rich and mature tapestry of intermingled life events. They are based on much more than a single online post, comment or tweet.

By contrast, many of our online contacts are brief and fleeting. Often people who will see our social media content know little or nothing about us. But the moment we share something political, we risk alienating ourselves from almost everyone who has a different opinion.

Yet in every other respect, these people may very well be good, decent, folk with whom we would otherwise have a positive and productive relationship with.

If you really cannot resist expressing your political opinions online, then do it through DMs with those who you trust. There you can freely express your views without the world seeing and judging you.

As the US elections approach their conclusion, I see many tweets supporting or condemning one or other candidate. Some I agree with. Some I do not.

But if I express my opinions on social media and in public, I am pretty sure that at least some of the people I am connected with will disagree with me. And for many, such disagreements are terminal to the relationship.

And it never needed to be like that.

Have your political views. Pursue your political causes. Vote and support the politicians you think deserve it.

Just don’t do their dirty work for them and risk your friendships for a political cause.

Because ultimately our friends are more valuable to us than any politician.

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