Awkward neighborhood research party
November 21, 2012 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Awkward neighborhood party, but a little bit more complicated than that.

This is an unusual situation. I'm an academic researcher. For 15 years I've studied Culture X. I speak X's language. I've lived in X-land for many years. I have many close friends in X-land. I have no ethnic ties to X-land.

On a whim, I got involved in a research collaboration with Culture Y. Culture Y is undergoing an incredibly interesting transition that creates a compelling angle for my research. Also the situation that Y-land is in makes for much sexier and more publishable research. I have some basic language skills in Y-language. (I have no ethnic ties to Y-land either.)

Culturally X-land and Y-land are quite similar. They are immediate neighbors. Yet, X-land and Y-land are at war and have been at war for decades. Xs and Ys really hate each other.

I still enjoy my work in X-land, but my Y-land research is really getting me excited. Also I'm appreciating the new discovery of a culture in Y-land.

So when I'm in X-land or Y-land (especially Y-land), I'll tell people that I've been working in the broader region (consisting of less than 5 culturally similar but ethnically distinct countries/cultures). If I get to know someone better in Y-land, I'll disclose to them that I've spent a lot of time in X-land. I don't openly discuss it though. (There could be political implications of this.)

Where this is coming to a head is my social media life. I have so many old friends from X-land and growing new friends from Y-land. When I post links to relevant news stories about X-land or Y-land, I think that it might be offended the other people. Or when I post a generic thing - like pictures of my family, it is sometimes awkward to see the comments from people from X-land and Y-land next to each other. I'm sure it makes them uncomfortable too.

Any thoughts on how to glide as smoothly as I can through this? I don't want to alienate my X-land friends (I'm fairly sure the more progressive ones don't care, but the less progressive ones do care).

Yet so far my credibility with each group seems to remain in tact.

Even though Y-land research is what I'm passionate about right now, I try to work on at least 1 X-land study each year.

Other ideas for this unusual situation?

Assume they won't be ending the war anytime soon.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would consider disengaging from social media.
posted by juliplease at 7:12 AM on November 21, 2012 [25 favorites]

I'm not completely clear what your question is asking. It doesn't sound like anything is actually causing problems right now?

When I post links to relevant news stories about X-land or Y-land, I think that it might be offended the other people.

Unless you like huge facebook debates, it is usually best to avoid posting anything controversial about any issue where you have friends on both sides.

Or when I post a generic thing - like pictures of my family, it is sometimes awkward to see the comments from people from X-land and Y-land next to each other.

I wouldn't worry too much about this unless some of your friends have told you that it's an issue for them. They might not even notice or might not find it as uncomfortable as you think. Are your friends telling you that they feel "alienated" by your friendships with the other country, or are you just worried about that situation potentially developing?
posted by randomnity at 7:13 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

One major thing you can do is separate the professional you from the personal you. Posting articles relevant to your professional/research interests and family photos from the same account is not ideal on a lot of levels.

So, choose to be professional and issues oriented on one account or service while being personal and family oriented on another. Friend/contact/follow people accordingly.

If people from X and Y land truly cannot stand to see each other comment on the same baby photo, they will self-edit and not post if someone from the opposite land has already posted.

If they are truly offended by you posting things about both X and Y land, they will unsubscribe from your posts. But if you offer both X and Y land posts, appropriately tagged/categorized, without editorializing overly much or appearing to strongly sympathize with one or the other, you likely won't lose a ton of followers.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:27 AM on November 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I must say that I am intrigued to learn the identities of X-land and Y-land.

In my experience, this is not a big deal. I have friends on my Facebook who are Israelis and citizens of bordering Arab states. I have friends who are from several East Asian countries that haven't been on the best of terms in modern times. None of this is a big deal on my Wall.

Could these people talk politely at a party? If so, your Facebook wall is probably fine. Of course, you know your friends better than we do, but you are probably overthinking things if you are uncomfortable by their sharing comments on a picture of your family. Shouldn't you rather be overjoyed that they have found some modicum of common ground?
posted by Tanizaki at 7:47 AM on November 21, 2012

First, I wonder if this'll ever cause a real problem, not least because of what I suspect is a strong correlation between people who use social media and progressive views. I might be wrong about this in your specific context, of course.

Second, I am a huge advocate, if you can possibly countenance it, of just letting go of this kind of what-will-different-people-think-of-me problem, even if there is a short-term hit to your professional success. Keeping separate or multiple identities is sometimes truly necessary, and I object to Mark Zuckerberg's attempts to remove people's right to do so, but life is so much easier when you don't need to. I realise it's not a parallel example at all, but I made a conscious decision not to try to project a "personal brand" on Twitter by confining my tweets to those topics I mostly work on, and it's just a lot nicer way to live, even if there may be losses associated with it.
posted by oliverburkeman at 8:04 AM on November 21, 2012

Creating friend groups on limited access social media like Facebook (e.g., X land, Y land, friends/family) would allow you to tailor your content as you deem appropriate. It can be a pain to set it up if you have a lot of friends. But once it is, you can add people to groups at the point of friend request -- and it's not a hassle at all.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:08 AM on November 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

+1 gnomeloaf. It is a PITA. And I'm not sure it's 100% guaranteed to be effective—facebook changes their privacy policies all the time, and I can imagine some kind of message-leakage in this scenario.
posted by adamrice at 8:31 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the mutual comments on family photos is probably not as big a deal as you think. But posting articles concerning issues that have to do with X vs. Y is not a good idea. If you don't choose to filter your groups the way gnomeloaf suggests then I would make sure you just keep what you post to family and funny cat videos.
posted by schroedinger at 8:43 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would worry someone would turn you in as a spy for the opposing side. Isn't that what usually happens in wars, that seemingly neutral business people or cultural figures act as agents of the state, for one side or both??

Sounds dangerous to be on social media in this manner.

You would know better than me, tho.
posted by jbenben at 9:12 AM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I strongly suggest either filtering who sees the content on social media (facebook groups) or not posting it at all.

I personally avoid ever posting anything that I wouldn't want every single friend, family member and current/future employer/boss/professor to see.
posted by Ashlyth at 4:16 PM on November 21, 2012

Well, anonymous. I hate to sound like a jerk, but it seems you need to ask yourself "am I bragging or complaining?"

I'm deeply involved with two cultures (other than my own), but it isn't an issue for me. You know why? Because I'm not an academic. I don't get paid to problematize cultural interactions and write about it.

If culture's X and Y are neighbors and have been at war for decades, chances are that there is a history of others having interactions with both cultures simultaneously prior to you during these past decades. Others have dealt with it. Perhaps they didn't have Facebook, perhaps they did and found a way to make it okay. It's very unlikely that you'll get caught if you have two FB accounts, by the way.

It's hard to understand exactly what you're talking about, because you only refer to these cultures X and Y. Do you honestly think others can provide you much insight if we don't know anything about these cultures? There is a huge difference in say, Israel & Palestine and North and South Korea. You can't boil down cultures to simple variables.

Hey! There might be members of the cultures you study on this very site!

Any thoughts on how to glide as smoothly as I can through this?

Remember that the problem you describe may not be a problem at all. Reading about from a different place, it sounds like a really interesting situation to be in!
posted by shushufindi at 5:00 PM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd be seeing this as an opportunity to show both x and y folk that I was neutral and that there were countless positive things in both cultures.

MrTaff is Tibetan, we don't shut up about Tibet on Facebook, and I have Chinese friends. He grew up in India and a very good friend of ours is Pakistani.

Mature people accept that all cultures are neither evil nor perfect. Even their own.

If you are friendly with someone who can't see that, unfriend that specific person on Facebook and tell them gently, and with respect, why.
posted by taff at 9:43 PM on November 21, 2012

I have friends who don't often see eye to eye on political stuff. Hell I have friends who don't see eye to eye with *each other* for personal stuff. I find that as long as I'm just being honest about myself things work out - people's quibbles with each other aren't really your concern. People are allowed to disagree without that being a problem.
posted by divabat at 8:07 PM on November 22, 2012

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