Friendship in the Age of Social Media

friendship-social-mediaAs anybody who uses it knows, social media, and particularly Facebook, has the power to unite, and to divide. But that’s not quite right: The truth is that social media makes it EASIER to unite or divide, but it’s not the thing with the power to do either one. We are.

I’ve been on Facebook nine years now, and over that time I’ve cultivated a group of “friends” from all over. Some are friends from “real life,” while others I’ve only ever known virtually. My friends list is a mix of writers, school friends, colleagues and customers from a direct sales business I no longer do, people from my temple, family members, neighbors, animal rescuers and Outlander friends. It’s under 300 people, and I’m proud of that. It’s relatively small by design. I don’t accept all friend requests and I don’t use my page as a networking tool. Instead, I use it to share photos, thoughts, news, humor, and writing, and to occasionally brag about my family and–very infrequently–myself.

Somebody once said to me, “You expect a lot from  your friends.” It was an accusation, but I was far from insulted. I DO expect a lot from my friends. Otherwise, they simply wouldn’t be friends.

My friends are the people who have earned my loyalty, and my trust. No two friends are alike, and they all bring something essential to my life. Some have a sense of humor I just adore. Some are highly intelligent and I can have deep, meaningful conversations with them about anything. Some share my passion for traveling or reading, while others can craft a sentence, story or poem that can drop me to my knees. Some always, ALWAYS, have a kind word to say and an optimistic outlook to share. Some have been with me since my childhood and some I’ve only just met. No matter what they bring to our friendship, there’s one thing that they all have in common: I have seen their heart.

In many different ways, I have watched my friends show their compassionate side. I have surrounded myself with people who take the time to rescue animals, foster children, raise funds for charity, feed the hungry, clothe the needy, and so much more. These are people who would drop everything to help me if it ever became necessary. And I would do the same.

This is why I don’t care about gender, or age, or religion, or culture, or background, or so many more unimportant minutae by which people too often get bogged down. I can either count on you or I can’t. It’s nothing less than I give of myself. I have seen to the core of who you are, no matter how you adorn yourself.

All through this last contentious year, and especially these last painful days, I have seen “friends” fighting and  yelling at each other on social media. People have been blocked, unfollowed, and unfriended. People have found offense everywhere, and then looked for justification of their having been offended with like-minded people. Where is the learning in that?

There is comfort in hanging with people who think like you do, and I have taken advantage of that comfort myself, especially as the world seemed to get increasingly crazy in the days leading up to the election. But comfort is not growth.

Growth comes when we initiate conversations with people who do not think like us, and listen in order to learn, not to change. I’ve always welcomed discourse on my Facebook page, as long as it was done respectfully and civilly. If you’re ready to despise an entire group for your perception of what they think, then perhaps the problem lies with you, and not with them.

I have had many brave conversations in the last few days, with friends who voted all over the political spectrum. Truthfully, it’s helped me immensely. When you get beyond the yelling and name-calling, all sides have common ground. And, as I mentioned, I’ve seen my friends’ hearts, so there’s that.

I am not unaware of the fear driving much of the anger currently out there. In fact, I’ve had enough fear of my own that my husband and I had a serious conversation about where we’d send our kids if the threats became real. So don’t write me off as complacent, naive or unaware. While I’m itching to do something, I want my efforts to effect change, not just register my anger and disappointment.

In the meantime, I’ll keep treasuring my friendships and writing from my heart. Although I run the risk of being hurt by doing so, I’ve come to realize that I know no other way to live.

©2016  All Rights Reserved

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3 thoughts on “Friendship in the Age of Social Media

  1. Brilliant piece Rachel. You’ve completely summed it all up here. We’re told relentlessly not to stress over the things we can’t change, and that we should ‘surround ourselves with positivity’, but look where it’s got us. The world seems so very divided right about now, and the only way to start coming together is to start understanding each other. It feels like an impossible task, but if both sides want it enough then it could happen. In the meantime I think it’s more important than ever to ensure the same mistakes are repeated over and over again…

    Like

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