So, last week I had an old friend visiting. We hadn’t seen each other in many years and yet our friendship seemed as though it had never been interrupted. Conversation was easy as we recounted the years since we’d last been together, shared memories from our distant past, and spoke about our lives today. It was a wonderful visit, enjoyable and filled with laughter and the simple joy of being together again. But at the same time the wonderful visit was happening I also was dealing with a nasty dustup on Facebook. (FFS – I truly exercised some poor community management with that one, am I right?!?) Anyway, long story short: a former classmate from high school who is newish to social media and the etiquette of thread comments, I tactfully tried to correct her and my efforts were not taken well, the rest? Yeah, you read it, you know you did, don’t deny it. Everybody loves a trainwreck! Suffice to say that the entire episode simply confirmed my belief that arguments on social media are the digital equivalent of teaching pigs to dance.
I raised my blood pressure and the other party learned nothing. Moving on.
But that incident notwithstanding, what you might or might not have noticed in my Facebook posts these days is that I’m operating less in outrage mode and more centered in kindness. Because I want to make my social media interactions more like the IRL visit with my old friend and less like the aforementioned Facebook contretemps. And I made this decision very consciously, some time back, because I find that being constantly outraged is tiresome in the extreme. Honestly, it takes up far more energy than I have to give these days, it has cost me relationships with people that I care about, it diminishes the happiness I want surrounding me, and frankly it complicates my life.
Outrage, simply, is outrageous.
And yet, despite my change of course, I find that I have many friends who appear to thrive on that element I am avoiding. For some perplexing reason they seem to want outrage to be their constant companion. Further, and also perplexing, they choose to make personal ideology their starting point for their every interaction in their world. Sadly, they seem to feel the need to sort their relationships with the people in their lives into categories that match their worldview today. To preach to the choir of the people who agree with them and to attempt to sway the opinions of the people who do not.
To be clear, I do not share that need.
Also to be clear, my friends span the entire spectrum of beliefs – from far left to far right – but the key word for me in describing them is the word “friend”. Not political ally, not ideological mate, only and simply friend. And that is because, in most cases, these are people who I have counted as friends from a time before we even had an individual ideology. Before we felt the need to make points with each other and pronounce judgments based upon our own individual litmus tests we’ve devised to separate our world into Us vs. Them.
Back when we were simply friends.
And I for one am making a concerted effort to return to that state with everyone I care about in my life. To ignore the outrage I see around me and I do not apply any rules to those relationships other than that we remain friends. Without need for judgment or argument, or for any disagreements we might have over philosophy or politics. When I write or post, when I share and like, my rule for that content is always – is it kind? Yes, of course many of my friends are quite different from me. Yes, we quite often do not agree, in some cases about very many different things. But still today we are friends (or so I choose to believe) and that is why I choose kindness, our shared past, our friendship, instead of looking at them through the prism of the world we live in today where we are all so wired for outrage and anger.
I am not wired for outrage.
So the point here, when you look past all of the words I’m casting about today, is be kind. Try to look at life not as an opportunity to make points at the cost of friendship but rather a chance to enjoy each other’s differences as opportunities for learning. And always remember that no one has too many friends. No one. The net of friendship is something you will need one day, but if you have turned away the friendship of the people who know you the longest you might find yourself alone when you most need someone. And usually the ones who know you the longest are the ones who know you best and who can help you the fastest. So knit up your relationships. Keep them well-tended and not well-sorted. And always remember that words have power. Words with friends have more indeed. Always ask yourself this one question… am I being a friend?
My answer is yes, you are my friend.
Yesterday, today, and always.