This week features a guest column by my daughter — Lauren Cardella Nunnelee.
Mind your own bee’s wax. This was something we said to other kids on the playground, at recess and to our annoying little brothers. When Facebook came along, it broke this cardinal rule, asking, “What are you doing right now?” And we got comfortable, maybe too comfortable, sharing our bee’s wax. Telling friends and family we’re at the park with our kids, we’re out to brunch with our friends, we’re heading to Disney World, sharing what we’re doing and giving a thumbs up to the things our friends are doing.
And then at some point in the social media continuum, the folks at Facebook decided to change the question to “What’s on your mind?” and minding our own bee’s wax broke down entirely. People stopped sharing the things they’re doing and started sharing the things they’re thinking. Sorely missing from this question and also the practice of minding your own … is the measuring stick of tolerance for other people’s thinking.
With two-thirds of Americans being Facebook users, millions unemployed, a pandemic that’s hampered social activity and a polarizing president, that’s a lot of time and reason for thoughts. People sharing well beyond what our kindergarten teachers ever imagined when they were giving out gold stars for “shares well with others.” Some of the thoughts we share are pretty benign, “Do you see a goat or bird in this picture? #GOAT for me!”; “Six Reasons Why My ADHD Child Inspires Me”; “Condoms prevent minivans.”
But the less benign/more controversial thoughts that support our personal belief systems — well, this is where we need our tolerance measuring stick. By and large, our belief systems are not based in evidence but instead informed by people we love and trust. And yet, even in the absence of fact or evidence, we’ll go to the mat to argue our beliefs. Did any of us expect that the very service of having our mail delivered would become so highly politicized and debated? I
certainly didn’t see that coming. The mail? Haven’t we been taking that service for granted forever? Did I expect my in-laws, who have been praying my nephew would get a full-time gig with the post office for years and finally did, would suddenly announce to their Facebook friends complete opposition to the USPS? But as avid Trump supporters, their personal experience with USPS no longer matters. Part of the Republican belief system is USPS can’t be trusted, and federal funding must be pulled. I break out the tolerance measuring stick. Do I comment and call bullsh*t or am I tolerant of an opposing opinion based on a few birthday cards containing $5 never getting to their destination? I see Facebook has noted “Partly False Information. Checked by independent fact-checkers.” I move on without commenting. Minding my own bee’s wax.
If I scroll further, I’ll eventually be tested again — the idea that all lives matter. Of course they do, who doesn’t believe that? Absolutely no one. Yet, for hundreds of years, some lives have mattered more. Some lives get swifter justice, more respect, more significance, more compassion. In an effort to raise awareness that there are some lives that get more, there’s a movement to acknowledge that black lives matter, too. See, the word “too” didn’t fit on the bumper sticker, that’s all. Again, I get out my tolerance measuring stick. Can I allow my friend to continue to deny the injustices? Do I remain tolerant of their opinion. After all, the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. But the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee I listen to it. Or agree with it. Or that I can’t debate it. This tolerance measuring stick is getting a workout but it’s helping me be more thoughtful of this paradox brewing.
Do we jump in every time someone posts an opposing view? Or are we permissive of some and argue others? Do we consider maybe this person has different life experiences and belief systems that lead them to a different view, scoring high on the tolerance stick? Or do we shut it down, thinking only an idiot could think that — and despite knowing you for years and never considering you an idiot, I have to reverse my decision to support my beliefs, scoring low on the stick.
It’s hard to imagine Mark Zuckerberg thought his platform, when jumping from college students to Boomers and Gen Xers, was going to be where we began to see the paradox of tolerance play out. The paradox being that if we are tolerant of all speech, then it needs to include intolerant speech. Wait, rewind. If we allow intolerant rhetoric, then intolerance can take a foothold and stamp out the idea of tolerance. Or as The Onion might put it, “ACLU Defends Nazi’s Right to Burn Down ACLU” — probably the point where tolerance has gone too far. You can see why there’s a real need for this tolerance measuring stick that I find myself constantly wanting. At the top of the scale would be 10, most tolerant of an idea I disagree with but I can see why someone might have an opposing view, honoring both freedom of speech and minding my own bee’s wax. And a 1, being hate speech or ideals that undermine patriotism and the principles this country was founded on, and thus should be called out as such. Even if it is your own family.