Have you heard the phrases, “You just need to cut toxic people out of your life” or “You need to get rid of that kind of negativity and do what brings you peace”?
I’ve seen these kinds of things on social media, and I’ve also been one of those people who’s been deleted (most likely for being a “toxic person” in someone’s life), and it concerns me. Not because I’m sad that I’m being deleted (most of them I wasn’t friends with in real life), but because of what it represents about our culture. Our culture that can’t handle those with differing beliefs.
Now let’s start by defining our terms before we get much further so we’re on the same page. If by toxic, you are referring to someone who is mentally, physically, or emotionally abusing you, then yes, you should not keep him or her in your life. There should always be boundaries for people who are abusive, and we shouldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior.
If by negative, you mean someone who is constantly complaining, criticizing you and/or others, slandering others, and generally being mean-spirited, you might want to re-consider spending much time with them in person because “that kind of negativity” will bring you down eventually and doesn’t constitute a healthy relationship.
But if by toxic or negative, you are referring to people holding different political, religious, or social ideas from you—even ones you find to be offensive—and you dislike seeing them on social media, I don’t think you should delete or unfollow them.
Deleting people leads to echo chambers and increased polarity
I have many friends who post things on social media that I disagree with. Would I prefer to only see things that I like and agree with? Maybe. It might lead to less internal frustration when I’m scrolling through. But if I start eliminating voices that I disagree with, I create echo chambers that only say back what I think and believe. Sure, that might make me feel great about myself. But that’s not a clear picture of the world we live in.
Our culture today that supposedly loves tolerance is becoming increasingly INtolerant of thoughts and ideas they don’t like. They call them dangerous. Violent. Toxic. But they are just words. Words in and of themselves are not violent. But if we teach our kids that they are, they won’t know what to do when they hear things they disagree with. Or maybe their first reaction will be to run away or act violently against those that are saying the things they don’t like.
The more we cut out people “on the other side of the aisle” from us, the greater our polarity grows in this country. And it’s growing far more rapidly than it should.
Deleting people limits our ability to have honest discussions
If we start deleting people when they post things we don’t like, it will be hard to engage with them about said topics in real life—because we won’t know where they’re coming from. However, if I’m allowing myself to see what they have to say on controversial topics, I’ll understand them better when it’s time to have honest discussions.
Maybe they won’t want to have honest discussions with me. But if they haven’t deleted me yet on social media—if they’re willing to put up with my beliefs that are different from their own—then maybe there is hope that we could discuss these topics in a civil way.
Most of the time I prefer not to get into debates online through comment sections as I think this is the cheap way out of having real conversations in healthy face-to-face relationships. Pretty soon it becomes a war as people take sides and you try to out-do each other on how many “likes” you can get on your arguments.
But I do share my opinions through my social media and blog posts, and I hope that these can open doors to private conversations if people are willing to have them. And I appreciate seeing other people’s opinions, even if some of them make me shake my head in how vastly different they are from my own.
Deleting people stunts opportunities to love them
Finally, there is more to a person than the controversial things they might post online. At least there should be. I have some friends online who I know would never “like” my spiritual or social issues posts, but they do “like” my life event posts or accomplishment posts, and it warms my heart that they still care for me as a person.
We have to stop equating ideas with the whole person. Yes, my spiritual beliefs do form my whole identity. And perhaps others would say their beliefs form their whole identity as well. But even still, we can love one another deeply as people who have value and worth, even if we disagree on many things. I can like one friend’s posts about books he’s reading or a show he’s in. I can love another friend’s post about traveling somewhere new or having a baby.
But if I delete these people, I don’t get the opportunity to show them love in these ways. I’m basically saying, “Your beliefs are so offensive to me that I can’t care about anything else in your life.” And with family and friends who are near and dear to my heart, I never want to get to that point.
Yes, maybe there have been times when I “snoozed” or hid some people for a time on Facebook if all they were ever posting were super-offensive posts. But I still cared for them as individuals, and I didn’t want to cut them out of my life permanently.
There are many current ideologies and belief systems in our society that I will never agree with. I may actively work against them because I think they’re wrong, and I feel strongly about standing up for the truth. You might be on the other side working just as strongly against my ideas. I get it. But I want you to know that no matter where we stand on these issues, I still love you, God still loves you, and I care about your worth and value as a person. Even if you delete me on social media.