I got an email from a former associate last night. I’ll admit I panicked. Truth be told, I loathe confrontation. I would rather avoid a person I dislike rather than argue. We can retreat to our own corners of the universe and not perpetuate the cycle of negativity. So I saw this person’s name appear in my inbox and I felt flustered. After consulting my boyfriend, I decided to open the message. It turned out it wasn’t for me at all. In fact, it was clearly meant for someone else, including names and situations of people I have never met (though I did know of one in passing.)
I have made mistakes in choosing friends. I have befriended people who eventually brought little into my life or even caused damage. Having learned from various experiences, I have chosen more carefully. As I looked over this mistaken message, I realized I chose wisely to end the budding friendship. This email shared judgments and details about someone’s marriage and health problems. The email ends with the telling line, “I got this info from a mutual friend.” While this may seem like harmless gossip, I’m sure the woman and man being discussed would be embarrassed and angry to know their troubles are being transmitted across the Internet.
Now I am guilty of continuing that cycle of chisme, too, by writing about this bizarre incident. I intend to work on that bad habit. And I intend to “block sender.”
*Props to comedian Steve Harvey for his bit in _The Original Kings of Comedy_ and making this phrase one of my catchphrases.
Next Wednesday, I will begin my third annual Lenten fast from Facebook. The smartphone data plan was canceled last week. Blues will install a passkey on our home PC. But the challenge won’t be whether or not I log in at work. The challenge will be—and always is—to use the 40 days to devote time and energy to my friendships, voice to voice, but more importantly face to face.
In recent months, social networking has soured for me. What could be inconsequential disagreements and tension are heightened by miscommunication and the cold reality of reading text on a screen. The too-public nature of posting and commenting sometimes exposes us as close-minded, petty, vindictive, whether the topic be political or personal. So I have purposely disconnected from a few online friends, with a few more choosing to “unfriend” me, possibly in response to my original decision. Apart from occasionally feeling left out of a social gathering, I feel a sense of relief.
I am blessed with a diverse group of friends. Some I met in college or through different work experiences. A few have been my teachers. A few were once my students. A few, like my only brother and my first cousin, I’ve known for most of our lives. But I haven’t always appreciated what I have. Like most people, I thrive on new experiences. Fledgling friendships are exciting because of their newness—and their lack of history. Having drinks with someone you’ve met through a party is quite different than comforting an intimate friend through grief. One does not trump the other but the former is easier than the latter. As much as we love those closest to us, close friendship is hard work. Social networking has allowed us to play longer and with many more people. It has not made me a better friend.
I have the greatest friends a person can have. They are activists, survivors, artists, and sages. I know I can grow in friendship with so many of them. As I said, ironically on Facebook, “let’s nourish our friendships so they flourish off-line.”