Opinions, judgement, assumptions and privilege checking: what really bugged me on Facebook this week

I am married to a man with opinions; one for every occasion, in fact. For Hootie, opinions open up opportunities for debate (a.k.a. his sport of choice). I don’t agree with some of what he thinks, and sometimes I want to beat my head against the wall for his seemingly insatiable desire to get into it on any and everything. But, an experience I had on Facebook this week has made me think about Hootie and his opinions differently.

On Monday, an organization I think is awesome launched one of its weekly campaigns to raise awareness and money for a cause. They sell cool t-shirts and donate seven dollars for each one sold to a charity featured in the campaign. What’s not to love?  I’ve bought a couple of shirts in the past year or two, share Sevenly’s content regularly and have used the organization to illustrate to my clients what good communication can look like (the particular example I have used is no longer on the site, so I can’t link to it).

This week’s Sevenly campaign is in support of autism. I shared this image on Facebook on Monday to show my support (Sevenly creates amazing visuals and I loved the message on the photo). My cousin, Cory, is autistic and an inspiration; he lives life to the fullest in his own amazing way and has achieved incredible things.

But, on Tuesday, when I saw Sevenly’s “BREAKING NEWS!” announcement, with a photo of Jenny McCarthy in her Sevenly tee, I gagged a little.

Oh dear. Jenny McCarthy’s involved and the autism-related charity that’s being promoted is Generation Rescue (Ms. McCarthy is on the board).

The purpose of this blog isn’t to debate the work of Generation Rescue or Ms. McCarthy (though Emily Willingham’s article sums things up nicely); it’s to share what happened when I chose to express myself on Sevenly’s Facebook page.

I posted, “You guys just lost my support for this campaign.” Not really an opinion as such, but it communicated where I stood. Within five minutes, here’s what Sevenly had to say:

“Let’s not lose sight of the greater need this week: supporting children affected by autism, in any way we can.”

Uh, say what? Now, I have no idea whether this comment was directly targeted at me. But, whatever the case, and whoever the intended audience, is it not ignoring some pretty basic concepts about freedom and choice?

A lot of people deserve a round of applause for really wading into the fray about this on Sevenly’s page this week. While I can’t speak for everyone who was posting their contrary-to-the-cause opinions, I certainly didn’t hear many people saying, “That’s it! No more support for you, Sevenly! And, by the way, I don’t support families affected by autism anymore, either.”

We may as well have done.

This campaign is not about her, it’s the kids. Grow up, you guys.

Right. People are being immature for expressing their opinion about someone else’s opinions and choosing not to donate to this particular campaign. And don’t get me (or Hootie) started on the ‘it’s for the kids’ argument.

… Its [sic] a shame that you are involving the opinions of others to stop you from doing good in the world!

Yep. I’ve given up doing good in the world and it’s all Jenny McCarthy’s fault.

And, how about the myriad of comments along the lines of

You can’t judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes.

What’s happened with this campaign has really bugged me because it seems to be happening more and more in our world: if others dare to share a contrary opinion, people are quick to make assumptions and judge, often with vitriol and self-righteousness that, frankly, can be hard to take.  [Bill Maher does this all the time and got a delicious smack down from Glenn Greenwald last month, which was a delight to watch.]

Louise Mensch (like Greenwald, a contributor to The Guardian) wrote an opinion piece in today’s edition that I’m still chewing over, that mentioned the concept of  ‘checking your privilege’ and its impact on modern feminism. While feminism is not the subject of today’s blog, I think a comment she makes is relevant in the context of my Sevenly angst:

“Check your privilege”… is a profoundly stupid trope that states that only those with personal experience of something should comment, or that if a person is making an argument, they should immediately give way if their view is contradicted by somebody with a different life story. It is hard to imagine a more dishonest intellectual position than “check your privilege”, yet daily I see intelligent women who should know better embracing it.

I really admire the people who’ve taken a stand about Sevenly’s campaign this week, and who haven’t backed down when confronted with a lot of judgement, assumptions and calls for privilege checking.  Most of the ‘naysayers’ really were trying to share their thoughts with respect, even in the face of frenzied reaction.

That so many people feel Generation Rescue does great things for their families is brilliant. And it’s great that Sevenly’s become a forum for people to share their experiences and opinions about this cause. It’s just too bad about the reception you get if you don’t agree.

Sharing opinions is what debate is about. And debate can create real dialogue. But for this to happen, we have to remember to respect differing opinions, which is what I think has been missing in this Sevenly situation for me, and what brings me back to my husband.

Hootie has strong opinions, but he also seeks to understand opposing positions, rarely judges, and has taught me a whole lot about having an informed opinion versus one based on emotion and media manipulation. I’m grateful to be married to a man who wants to hear what I have to say. Who doesn’t judge or try to make me feel like I am wrong for thinking what I do, despite, most of the time, disagreeing with my position. With Hootie, I am free and safe to share what I think, without judgement, assumptions and the need for a privilege check.

I like being a cause he supports.

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