I was in college when email proliferated to the point where largely technologically unaware adolescents had no choice but to adopt it.
No stamp and envelope were required, and I was able to share my thoughts with someone who could read it whenever they wanted. It was revelatory, and I loved it instantly.
Facebook was a similar experience.
While other people shared aspects of their lives from baby pictures and graduation announcements to frustrations with their jobs and complaints about their marriage, I was utterly enamored to have a platform for the sharing of ideas!
At last, we could consider each other’s visions and challenge preconceived notions on a readily available platform designed to unite humanity.
I soon discovered that Facebook was a readymade platform for abject chaos, really ugly cyberbullying and a clear demonstration, with apologies to George Carlin, that at least half the world is of below average intelligence.
In order to unlock the nastiest parts of the human psyche, all I needed to do was state an opinion.
If I asked a thoughtful question or shared an essay about my feelings on a given topic, within the hour, I’d have a spectrum of responses ranging from informed commentary and fawning agreement to angry striations declaring that I was brainwashed, not very bright and generally unaware of objective reality.
For a while, I reveled in that gory reality.
I refused to block anyone for fear of living in an echo chamber, which meant that I was fully aware that an awful lot of people really disagree with me.
For some reason, that branch of the population seems to be aggressive in their distaste.
Fortunately, it’s not that hard to deflect such folks. If you don’t reciprocate their visceral attacks, you look like the gentler soul, the bigger person and the wise old owl.
Plus, I was joined by a host of folks who agreed with me because most of my Facebook friends are, in fact, my friends, who tend to share large parts of my worldview.
How could we be wrong, especially when we largely outnumbered the people who disagreed with us?
After a while, winning all these battles while suffering the worst wounds of war ceased to be very satisfying. No one who disagreed with me ever acknowledged that I was right or recanted their vitriol. They simply moved on and quit engaging in conversation, so I must be in the right!
Then some of my friends started to abandon the cause.
One of my favorite people told me that he just couldn’t handle the negativity. While he largely agreed with my philosophical positions, it hurt him to see some of his other favorite people attacked, diminished or otherwise exposed.
I had distilled the core of my Facebook crew down to a group of folks who absolutely shared my dogma.
There were a few people who had tangentially found their way to me and only remained because they absolutely loathed my worldview, and everyone I went to high school with.
But, still, I was getting only pure positive reinforcement mixed with abject abuse. It was an ugly dichotomy.
So, I created a new space – a private Facebook group focused on constructive dialogue.
Some would call it a safe space, but I’d be worried about being mocked for that terminology by those who eschew such concepts, so I named it: Disagreeing Agreeably Is an Art.
Contrary to human nature and all the rules of the internet, I invited the entire swath of humanity to join me.
Along with all the brightest, most attractive and insightful people I know, I included some of my harshest critics and a whole bunch of people who have yet to declare how they feel about the state of the world today.
The reactivity potential for this chemical compound is profoundly unpredictable, which is significantly more exciting than the echo chambers that most people construct for themselves with the unfriend button.
Curating such a unique place in the world may actually be more challenging than redirecting all those attacks on my actual worldview.
All I have ever wanted is for everyone to consider each other’s thoughts, share ideas in a reasonable fashion and connect in all the ways that truly link us, which surely outnumber those which would rend us asunder.
The group is in its infancy. The first week has yielded the reality that it is not sufficient to simply articulate that membership in the group requires that no insults shall be cast upon any other members of the group.
Though my invitation stated unequivocally that any arguments would be composed purely of ideas and that no aspersions would be cast upon the arguers themselves, the first day saw two of my founders each referencing the other as abject morons and privately petitioning me to cast the other from our noble association.
It’s a work in progress, but we’re getting there.
I mostly ask provocative questions, and my ever-growing assembly of folks who have agreed not to call each other names mostly stick to answering them, debating each other and pondering the mysteries of the universe.
More than a few folks who had previously declared that they could never associate themselves with so many folks who largely agree with me have now concluded that this might be the kind of party where they could have some fun.
It’s ambitious, I know, but what if we could make the world feel that way?
Professional school counselor and varsity wrestling coach at Charlottesville High School in Charlottesville, Virginia. Wilkerson is a father to two teenage boys, Avery and Grady, and husband to April, all of whom are very agreeably disagreeable.