Cancel culture - when friends don’t let friends disagree

To my way of thinking, this loss of civility is the real issue.

 (photo credit: TNS)
(photo credit: TNS)
Note: I’m writing this the day before the US election.
The backstory
There’s this casual friend. We met some 20 years ago in the US. Our children went to Jewish day school together and our social circles overlap considerably. She is an educated professional. These days, our lives don’t run along parallel tracks as much as they used to, but we stayed current with one another on social media.
Recently, she posted a request that anyone who supports the candidate she isn’t voting for should unfriend her on Facebook. She wasn’t belligerent about it, but she was adamant.
I wrote to her privately to confirm she was serious.
She was serious. So I unfriended her.
Hours after it happened, I found myself unable to move on from my open-mouthed disbelief. I was in shock that a person I have known for two decades would decide, on the basis of my democratic right to choose, that I was no longer respected or worthy of remaining her friend.
There was no discussion of nuance, no inquiring about how I see the issues, no request to share my perspective. What I experienced was a wholesale personal canceling on the basis of a vote I cast in a democratic election.
What happened then
Unable to shake the gnawing sense of consternation, I posted a straightforward account of what happened on my Facebook timeline. More than 16 hours later, as I write these words, the reactions are still coming in. Presently, there are over 325 comments, not counting the more egregious ones I’ve already deleted.
Clearly, this incident touched a nerve.
The 300+ comments can be divided into a few categories. Some people offered support, shaking their virtual heads along with me. Some asked for more details about the backstory. Some reflected on what this says about our culture. Some advised me what I should do or feel, now that this happened. Some, resignedly, said, “Welcome to the club.” The most heartbreaking are the comments from people reporting that a family member, sometimes as close as a mother or child, is so enraged by their political choice that they either cut them off or harangue them endlessly.
I knew this election has been a brutally contentious one. Of course I did. I just didn’t expect the hostility to hit so close to home.
The implications
We made aliyah in 2010 and I haven’t voted in a US election since.
Until this year.
Whether or not my absentee ballot will impact the outcome, I felt that, this election in particular, I needed to take a stand. The values I hold most dear, the ones that are informed by my Jewish commitments, made my choice clear to me. I cast my vote accordingly.
It may be that, by the time you read these words, the election results will have been announced, accepted (however grudgingly) and people will have moved on. It seems equally likely that there will be inflamed American citizens fomenting civil unrest, regardless of who the declared winner is.
To my way of thinking, this loss of civility is the real issue.
The Mishnah in Tractate Sotah 49b includes a long list of predictions that characterize the period preceding the coming of Moshiach. The list is entirely negative and creates a picture of utter social breakdown. It reads, in part, like a current assessment of where we are holding as a society: “In the period preceding the coming of Moshiach, insolence will increase and honor wane… The government will turn to heresy… The wisdom of the sages will deteriorate, and those who fear sin will be despised. Truth will be lacking. Youths will put elders to shame… A son will treat his father disgracefully. A daughter will rise up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies will be members of his own household…” In the end, this is where I land. The call in, call out, boycott and cancel culture we live with is part of a global spiritual decline that was predicted by Jewish sages over 1,800 years ago. My old friend who cannot tolerate dissension, who chose to cancel those who have a different perspective than she does, is the 2020 embodiment of this bleak mishnaic vision.
The Mishnah ends by suggesting that, at such a time, when the corruption of society has reached the nadir that we can all plainly see happening before us, there is only one solution.
“Upon what can we rely? Upon our Father in heaven!”
These ancient words comfort me.