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Atlanta forgiveness expert explains how to stop the political unfriending


Political unfriending has become a thing in recent years. Around the globe, friendships have become casualties of political unrest.

With the 2016 presidential election just days away, tension is high and people may find themselves battling friends and family, in person and online, over their political beliefs and motivations.

A widely reported poll released in September by Monmouth University found that 7% of voters reported having lost or ended a friendship as a result of this year's presidential race. The same percentage of voters say they have lost friendships over political campaigns in the past.

In the survey, 9% of Clinton supporters say they have lost friendships compared to 6% of Trump backers and 3% of other voters.

Social media relationships are particularly vulnerable to politics with an offensive post being the most cited reason for unfriending someone.

In Dec. 2015, a report by Nicholas A. John and Shira Dvir-Gvirsman in the International Communication Association's Journal of Communication, a survey of Facebook unfriending by Israelis during the Israel–Gaza Conflict of 2014 revealed that unfriending was more prevalent among the more ideologically extreme and more politically active Facebook users.

The 2016 presidential campaign may be bringing out the worst in us ( 70 percent of American voters say it has) but Atlanta-based forgiveness expert, Ron Chapman said all is not lost.

Chapman, a speaker and author on the topic of recovery and moving forward, has been working with people who are feeling the impact of today's fractured society.

"Clearly what we are seeing is this whole global shift with Brexit and everything else. Globalization of the world is putting unprecedented pressure on politics. If we look at this from the traditional power center (of white males), this stuff is deeply threatening to the world order as we know it," he said.

But even as we are deluged with negative and conflicting information from sources both credible and not-so credible, we should try to look on the bright side.

"You can look at this political vitriol as destructive or you can look at it as an entry point to a conversation that we haven’t had," said Chapman who recently spoke on the topic during an appearance in Sandy Springs.

For example, the latest string of sexual allegations from Donald Trump seem to have opened the floodgates for the estimated 60 percent of American women who have been sexually violated to talk about their experiences. But let's say a friend posts a remark about the topic on social media that differs from your viewpoint.

"When your former friend posts this problematic remark, it is not just the remark. You get a ripple effect from all the things you read that have been adding up and depending on how sheltered you have been, it can have an effect," said Chapman.

Whether you are considering ending a friendship or wondering how to repair one that has been broken by this election, Chapman offers a few tips to get you started:

Own your own wound. "First you have to own the fact that you have been affected," Chapman said.

Decide if the person or relationship has merit. "If it doesn’t have sufficient merit, you may end it and you probably should," said Chapman. The important thing is not to just write someone or something off without examining the intrinsic value. This is one reason why social media friendships are so easily destroyed. They may not have been that deep to begin with.

Engage before it is too late. "We are trying to stay away from people who have different viewpoints and it is not helping," Chapman said. "The very best thing we can do is engage." Going silent isn't the answer. "At minimum you can listen, at best you can present your viewpoint," he said. The hard part is that the longer you wait to engage, the harder it becomes. "If we have unfriended someone or unfollowed them or have taken steps back, the longer we delay the engagement with ourselves or with them, the longer it will be unresolved," Chapman said.

Tell us your story:  Forget the polls and the pundits, we want to know how the 2016 election is affecting your life. Has the election created tensions at home, school or work? Forced you to unfriend loved ones because of their rants about politics? Or have you been inspired to plant a campaign sign in your yard for the first time? We want to show how Georgians are experiencing this extraordinary election year.  Email holiviero@ajc.com


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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.