Stop arguing. Start creating healthier communities

There are certainties that follow every tragedy. They include no small number of Facebook memes and debates that are utterly pointless because they never change anyone’s minds about anything.

Side note: The next man who calls me a snowflake is getting hugged publicly. (fair warning)

Notable exception: Joe Perry, Bangor City Council announced this on Facebook: “I want to build a teen center for kids in junior high and high school.”

Well, hells, yes! Something good coming out of a crisis? An investment in young people in our area? Who doesn’t want to get behind that?

My message to Joe was simple: “I’m in. Happy to collaborate and brainstorm.” His message back: My hope is Jim that over time we can help make your job easier! I look forward to working with you.

I love anything that puts me out of a job. My work is recovery from trauma, mental illness, and addiction and folks, me and mine are busier than we’ve ever been.

This must stop. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, each of us must, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” For all the bemoaning I hear about the loss of community, family, and values, I don’t hear a corresponding, “And here’s what I’m going to do about it!”

Instead I hear, “And here’s what the government should do about it!”

Everyone has an opinion and it’s obviously deeply satisfying to spout them on social media, but what if we put our time and efforts into creating the kind of change Joe Perry is calling for? Wanna support at risk teens in our area? How about getting behind the Shaw House or Big Brothers/Big Sisters? How about supporting the changes that the Bangor Area Recovery Network facilitates or the efforts of a stellar organizations like Partners for Peace and the Health Equity Alliance?

It’s not hard to make the world a better place. It just isn’t. Not if you put your efforts locally. It’s not hard to be kind. It’s not hard to make a difference in someone else’s life and it’s more rewarding than most anything you might do for yourself.

If, however, you just can’t help yourself and need to spend your time on FB reacting to people who are spouting hateful opinions or perhaps threatening your personal rights, then I offer a few tips on effective communication based on my experiences as a mental health professional and a veteran of internet wars circa 1995.

  • Any reference to “liberals” and “conservatives” polarizes and ceases productive conversation.
  • Not all liberals share the same position. Ditto for conservatives. They’re little more than labels.
  • It’s incredibly bad etiquette to post opinions on FB pages of people who are not your “friends.”
  • Insulting someone is rude even if it’s on the internet. (No, really!)
  • Suggesting in social media that our government ought to do things does not constitute advocacy
  • Respectful discourse has the potential to change mindsets. Spouting inflexible positions doesn’t.

Parting thought: I served six years on local and regional school boards – trust me – teachers have too much to do and too little to do it with. How about we support them pragmatically? Whether you think they should carry guns or not, can we help them pay for the supplies kids use?

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.