Disloyalty By Proxy

I was discussing an issue with a family member, and with a former colleague who once harassed me at work. These folks don't know each other personally, nor did they have any advanced knowledge of their relationship to me, personally, although I presume that the colleague could have easily determined my family member's relationship to me simply by clicking on her profile.

As the discussion unfolded, it became clear that both my family member and my former colleague shared roughly the same opinion on the issue being discussed, while I disagreed with that position. Over the course of the conversation, I defended my position respectfully, and my family member defended her position respectfully, too. My former colleague however -- and unsurprisingly -- became disrespectful and antagonistic toward me. The conversation soon ended after that.

I noticed that my family member had "liked" certain of the disrespectful comments written by my former colleague. This hurt me twofold. First, it hurt that my own family member would endorse a disrespectful comment aimed at me. Second, it hurt that my own family member would "take sides" with someone who once harassed me at work.

I hasten to make clear that my family member had no idea about the harassment, and I didn't bother to tell her about it, either. I don't fault her for "taking sides" with such a person, per se, because she didn't have any insight into the kind of person she was dealing with. All she knew was that she "liked" the comments with which she agreed.

Still, the situation got me thinking. When we interact on social media, we often have no broader social context beyond the narrow discussion in which we're involved. If my family member knew my former colleague and what he had done to me once upon a time, I doubt she would have so readily endorsed his words. Doing so may have given her quite a bit of pause; after all, if you know someone harasses other people, and you hear something that they say, you will likely weigh that statement differently in your own mind than you would an identical statement from someone you know does not harass other people.

Or possibly not. Perhaps my family member believes the disrespectful things the other person said; perhaps she believes much worse than that; perhaps she even believes I deserved any harassment I got. If so, at least then I'd know to place my family member and my former colleague in the same basic category.

Cognitively, it's a difficult thing to talk myself out of, even now. If you "like" and endorse most things said by a person on social media, and then you later discover that that person is a murderer, for example, would that cause you to reevaluate your endorsement of their ideas? Or, would you simply reason that even though the person is bad, the ideas are still good?

My mental prior is to favor the former. If I think someone makes a lot of sense, and then I find out that he/she is actually a horrible person, I second-guess my initial evaluation of that person's ideas, too. How much sense can a murderer make on tax policy? If someone's brain is sufficiently broken in one way, how can I be sure that it isn't also broken in some other way? How can I be sure that their tax policy views aren't in some way pathological to their respect for human life?

It's an extreme example, but it illustrates the point. If my family member regularly endorses statements by people who harass me and treat me disrespectfully, how can I be sure that that isn't a package deal? Maybe she would be willing to harass me but for our familial bond. Then, of what worth is that bond?

I've had a few other friendships fizzle out in this way, in which friends decided to endorse the positions and statements of people who attacked me. In those cases, it happened often enough that it caused me to second-guess the wisdom of the friendship. I pulled back a bit, and the friendships dissipated to nothing.

Is this right of me, or wrong of me? I honestly don't know. I know that I have never regretted spending less time with people who aren't nice to me; and I have, so far, no regrets about spending less time with people who are very friendly with the people who aren't nice to me.

We must all evaluate our relationships according to the standards we set. Thus far, this one works for me.

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