My goodness, we live in imperfect times.
It’s been a long two-year stretch of contentious campaigns, elections, and an ensuing presidency resulting in two ensuing Thanksgiving holiday cycles when imperfect families have gathered and let loose their imperfect opinions on imperfect subjects at the most imperfect of times – like at the table during the Thanksgiving meal.
Most people subscribe to the school of thought that teaches us that politics is likely the worst of topics to discuss when the family comes together. But, for crying out loud, there’s always that one uncle, cousin, or sibling – all it takes is a little alcohol and someone to slip in just one insidious comment – that mars the merriment and turns a pleasant occasion into the personification of a potential Facebook rant complete with a steady stream of nasty comments.
Facebook, now being the extended mega horn-wielding arm of the First Amendment right to free speech, might be a regular communication media between friends, random strangers, and of course family members, but after it’s all been typed and the ‘post’ button clicked, is it wise to continue that thread during one of the likely two or three times a year when the whole family gathers in the same room to catch up on each other’s lives and reminisce about old times?
That Thanksgiving of 2015 right after the presidential primary campaign I really hesitated to RSVP and reserve my seat at the Thanksgiving dinner table mainly because, I had to face it, my chosen candidate didn’t win and I was still pretty inert with resentment. But by my very nature I’ve always been one who preferred to regret something she has done rather than something she should have done. So I put on my big girl pants, packed a bag with the obligatory side dish, dessert, good bottle of wine, and half a Xanax, and I went with the promise that I would keep calm and simply take a deep breath and quietly excuse myself if anyone brought up politics, health care, immigration, or any of the other topics people love to argue over.
The Thanksgiving of 2016 was the year I decided a nice quiet holiday at home was in order. I mean, people were just crazy that year! And I learned from Easter dinner 2016 that people, including the ones in my family, were emboldened to speak bigly about their opinions.
My man, my son, and I invited two friends over for a small-scale intimate Thanksgiving feast at our own Thanksgiving table and passed the day feeling the way one should feel at Thanksgiving – thankful with full bellies.
With Thanksgiving 2017 upon us, so far no one in my family has issued any invitations or offered to host this year’s family gathering, which comes as no surprise because, as we all know, hosting a Thanksgiving dinner isn’t exactly an easy task to undertake. It’s time-consuming, it’s expensive, it’s stressful to a degree, and it’s a mess to clean up after. But it’s generally worth it, given that year after year what we’re primarily thankful for is that everyone is still alive and healthy and present for the occasion.
I’m lucky because my two parents are still alive, and although I’ll likely extend them an offer to have a turkey dinner at my house with the three of us here, it was just two weeks ago that I engaged in a regretful waist-deep wade through one manure mound of a Facebook argument with my dad and some family members et al.
In the aftermath, it’s clear to me what I have to do to save this year’s Thanksgiving – I just gotta quit Facebook. At the very least, until the holidays are over.
We’ve all been there. Enough is enough – the negativity, the ubiquitous headlines, the futility of engagement, the time suck of it all and the utter unfulfillment we feel after – yet later on in the day here we sit, checking in to read the replies and scroll through it all again. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
A few years ago I quit Facebook cold turkey and those six or so weeks were refreshing. You know the 16th Century poetic expression “dark night of the soul” – that brief Facebook-free period was exactly the opposite. I never knew how much stuff I knew that I didn’t even need to know until I quite Facebook. Sure, I missed some things like birthday reminders, the food porn, and even just last night I was able to watch my niece play the oboe streamed live from Boston Symphony Hall. But it’s true that there is just so much information on Facebook that no one needs to be exposed to in order to live a fulfilling life.
Unfortunately at this point in life, quitting Facebook cold turkey – even to save Thanksgiving – isn’t a viable option. As a journalist I need to be plugged into the outside world. And who else is going to post Facebook Fun Friday on The Wanderer page? So if I can’t quit cold turkey, is there an alternative to quitting Facebook, say, quitting ‘warm’ turkey? Keeping a presence on Facebook for specific purposes while jettisoning the junk I know I don’t want to look at? Sounds reasonable, but is the human mind capable of such … such … such discipline?
I’ve gone, one could say, warm turkey now for over a week. I have caught myself scrolling, and have rectified that by ‘unliking’ groups that post things that trigger defensive or disturbed responses in me. And under no uncertain terms will I respond to or read the comments of a family member’s post about anything apart from photos of babies or pets.
Some things should be sacred in the human experience. On Facebook, nothing is sacred. Everything in existence can be attacked – facts can be subjective, the figurative is mistaken for literal, the holy is smeared until it’s unholy, truth diminished to untruth, daddies and daughters reduced to political and moral adversaries.
“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as a cause for withdrawing from a friend,” said Thomas Jefferson once.
And of course, that should go doubly for family.
Still, had Facebook been a thing during the revolution, the infancy of a new country, the throes of the existence of slavery, and the presidential campaign between Jefferson and John Adams, that eloquent quote might have been one of his Facebook posts, or it might have been something more like, “John Adams. What a loser. #LittleJohnny.”
I wish I could quit Facebook cold turkey, but by cutting it warm turkey now, by next Thursday I might even get it down to room temperature.
So if anything I do is going to save Thanksgiving this year, it’s going to have to be warm turkey – warm turkey on Facebook, and warm turkey on the table at my house.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, especially to all the daddies and daughters who’ve ever duked it out on Facebook and who still think the world of each imperfect other.
By Jean Perry