My dog died yesterday.

He was really old and had no hair left and was 100% tumors, yet I still couldn’t help but refuse to put on make up and accidentally cry in front of my boss. Just an exemplary professional here, folks.

As much as I’m sure you secretly enjoy getting emotional about human-pet connections (Where the Red Fern Grows, Fly Away Home, and Free Willy were popular for a reason), this post isn’t about Doggie Heaven. Though I fully expect Heaven to have lots of puppies. This post is about why strong opinions scare me. I only brought up Bo—R.I.P., buddy—because he was the best, so I wanted to bestow upon him this final honor of being mentioned on the Internet. And, as any celebrity who has ever taken a naked photo has learned, nothing on the Internet is ever lost or forgotten.

bo

Bo was quite the heartthrob in his younger days.

Earlier this week, I posted a picture on Instagram that only 10-20 people got to see before I took it down. Here it is:

betches

Now, I personally thought this little piece of dramatic advice (stolen from @betches) was really funny and spot-on. Of course, I was interpreting it through my own eyes, not the eyes of the rest of the world. Isn’t that always when things go wrong? In this case, I innocently interpreted this life motto to mean “If you’re in a nonmarital relationship where you fight all the time and feel tons of anxiety about whether or not he’s going to text you back, just get out and move on. Letting go is hard, but so is ending up with someone you don’t get along with or trust.” Some of my followers, however, interpreted this as “Shannon thinks everyone should get divorced if things get a little rocky.” Yikesabee. That’s a rather large jump.

Actually, to my knowledge, only one of my followers came to this conclusion. But if one person thinks it, odds are that plenty of other people do, too. For instance, we all think we’ve met the only person in the world who actually likes Spam (cough my fiancé cough). And yet, it continues to be mass-produced, which points to the surprising conclusion that a lot of people [apparently] spend their hard-earned money on slimey canned “meat.” Therefore, a lot of people probably thought that I was endorsing divorce this week. Or they think I am a highly delusional bride-to-be who thinks she’ll never fight with her future husband. Not so. Just ask Aaron “what happened at the crawfish boil?” Actually, don’t. Probably best to let it lie.

To address this post specifically, let me just say that I firmly believe relationships should be “easy” in that you mutually want to “work” on things, laugh far more than you argue, and communicate openly and respectfully. If regular anxiety or drama surrounds your non-contractual relationship, consider enduring the momentary pain of separation instead of the lasting pain of an lifetime of unhealthy frustration. If you are married, go to counseling, split a bottle of wine, and figure it out.

What inspired me to write, though, was not the topic of that particular Instagram post. It was how quickly I found myself deleting a post that drew even a single ounce of controversial attention. When I saw the long comment pop up that opened with the words “this mindset is the reason for divorce,” I grew so uncomfortable that I almost started sweating, and naturally scanned the room for the nearest bottle of Pinot. Unfortunately, I was in my boss’ office, so all I had to work with was half a bag of Peanut M&Ms (they were his…shhh) and my water bottle. Not quite the relaxers I was looking for.

At first, I responded to the comment—as well as to a second comment that was not controversial, but still opinion-oriented—with a “whoops, misunderstanding, lol, love you bye” light-kind-of response. But even posting a peacemaking reply could not ease my discomfort. Since I found myself unable to concentrate on my work because what if people think I’m an overly opinionated social media troublemaker?, I had to delete the whole thing. When it was gone, the world came back into focus and I was able to begin breathing normally again, or as normally as one can breathe with a mouth full of Peanut M&Ms.

Ten minutes later, after I’d had some time to calm down and swallow, I began wondering why I am so fearful of social media controversy. Do I care too much about what others think? Am I afraid that other people will challenge my viewpoints? Do I even have strong opinions? Some people love getting into debates online, posting their opinions about [name any Republican candidate] and waiting for the firestorm of replies. When I see those kind of posts, I scroll as fast as I can past them to find the nearest meme about cats or wine or hungry porcupines.

porcupine-corncob-001

This anxiety over conflict is only triggered by online opinions and debates. In “real life,” because—please remember—the internet is not real life, opinions and debates don’t make me uncomfortable. Why is that?

I think in-person debates are less stressful because, as seen with the rise of cyber bullying, people are much harsher on the internet. Sugarcoating isn’t necessarily a good thing, but I do think that taking on a respectful and less aggressive tone is a far more productive tactic than spitting anger and taking digs. On the internet—even when not anonymous—people are way more likely to argue with sarcastic, biting, and flat out mean voices. I, myself, have written emails or texts (similar because it’s typing, not speaking) that are way more callous than anything I would say to someone’s face.

People who love online debates or spouting controversial opinions chalk it up to “being honest” or “taking a stand,” but I’m not sure that’s the whole story. I think it’s a form of venting or trying to prove something to themselves or others. Let me put it this way: Very rarely—if ever—will someone change his or her mind about a topic just because YOU share your side of the argument online. It will just create frustration on the opposing side, leading to more divisiveness and annoyance. Additionally, people who agree with you will comment with the sole purpose of ganging up on and “sticking it” to the people who don’t agree. Where’s the productivity? Where’s the real change?

I know that some people may read this and say, “Shannon, you’re just scared of not being liked.” Well, that’s true. Call me a crazy person, but I enjoy getting along with people. It makes my life easier. I’m not going to say “I don’t care what people think!” because I think that’s a load of hogwash for anyone to say. True, we all don’t care about certain things—for example, I don’t care what anyone thinks about my face with no make up, or that I love God, or that I am occasionally awkward enough to clear an entire table. However, I do care about not alienating people I barely know on the internet by tainting their desire to be friends with me based on opinions that don’t define who I am. They just define what I think about certain topics. Those are two different things.

If you want to ask me how I feel about Obama, Ben Carson, abortion, gun control, Caitlyn Jenner, your sister’s boyfriend, or crossfit, I’m happy to chat with you in person. We can disagree, and we can learn from eachother in a respectful manner—and perhaps the discussion will even be intense! But at least we’ll be able to look one another in the eyes and remember we’re talking to a fellow human who is multidimensional, not just a blank-faced opponent.

I don’t expect online debate-lovers to change their ways based on this post. Because yes, this whole post is an opinion, which is slightly hypocritical—I know. However, anyone who reads this blog chooses to come here for my opinions! I don’t force it upon them in newsfeeds. Also, I do try to be kind with my words, which is my primary issue with most online debates. Which leads me to officially state on the record that I don’t hate anyone who posts long opinions online. Just like you might feel a twinge of annoyance when you see my 8,000 posts about being engaged (sorry!), I’ll feel a twinge of annoyance at your posts about why people who do more cardio instead of weights are stupid. We can still be friends.

Let me also say that the people who posted in response to my Instagram post were not harsh or mean by any stretch of the imagination. Their posts were just little gateways to more posts that could, actually, turn out argumentative. And that’s why I had to shut those gates by tearing taking them down.

So what is my conclusion? I’ve decided I’m not a shallow person for feeling uncomfortable with online controversy. I have my reasons for not enjoying such debates, and that’s okay. So, please remember that anything I post is not meant to be taken as a strong opinion, because I don’t post those. It’s probably just a meme I stole from BetchesLoveThis.com that made me giggle.

Like this one:

betches2

Raise your hand if you think I’m encouraging children to disrespect their parents! Anyone..? Ah, good. Thanks for understanding that I’m just laughing about the accuracy of using Google for basic survival.