I invite a friend we'll call Rita over for coffee. We haven't seen one another for awhile so I am looking forward to hearing from her. My friend, by the way, doesn't share my political views, but we are old school chums and our history predates our politics. Besides, we like the same movies, clothing styles, and our kids are friends in school.
Rita arrives at my house and we greet one another warmly. I can't wait to hear about her trip to Florida, and how her husband is doing on his new job. And I want to tell her all about the new consignment shop I found last week. We sit down at my kitchen table and I see Rita fumbling through her purse. She pulls a newspaper clipping...a cartoon from her wallet and hands it to me.
"I just wanted to share this with you; it's so hysterically funny," she giggles.
I look at the picture. It's a grotesque caracature drawing of a well-known political figure (one whom I happen to admire) doing something really stupid. The caption reads, "Idiots...all ______ are stupid morons!" Huh! I wonder why she thinks I would find this even remotely funny! I say nothing. My silence takes her back a minute and she says..."Oh, well I didn't mean YOU were stupid!" I just really hate this OTHER politician.
We change the subject but I can't really get this incident out of my mind. I thought we were FRIENDS.
Isn't that the button we chose when we agreed to be FRIENDS on Facebook? Yet I see this scenario played out on Facebook every day.
So what is a Facebook friend? To many, I fear, it is just a name added to a list. One of those faceless heads that gets added to your account when you don't upload your photo.
Herein lies the problem with social media. It's not social at all. It's people hiding behind a keyboard... saying things they don't mean to people they don't really care about. It's taking cheap shots at people of differing opinions, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or political persuasion without even once having to look into their eyes and see the hurt from their callous remarks.
My goodness how we 'adults' shake our heads at the cyber-bullying that is so prevalent among today's teenagers. We shed a dry little tear when we read of another young person who committed suicide because of the mean-ness of her peers. Then we look for a great joke to post on F/B...one that'll get everybody's attention you know...because it really IS all about the number of 'likes' and comments you get, right? I mean, who really cares about how my readers, my FRIENDS feel when I post it? It's all about ME...this is my bully-pulpit, dammit! Perhaps we're not so different from our teenagers.
Not so many years ago, at least in my parent's household, discriminatory jokes were pretty common. As a child I remember hearing my folks tell stories about Jews, Native Americans, African Americans, Polish people, Asians, Mexicans, gays and lesbians, and let's not forget, women. Truly, they meant no harm. But unintended harm is still harmful. The civil rights movement taught us that these are REAL PEOPLE with names and faces and ears that hear and hearts that hurt from our words. So we stopped. Well, I stopped.
So what's left? What is left for us to belittle and demean...there must be SOMETHING that we can criticize and say hurtful things about... well how about Republicans, or Democrats, or Libertarians, or Tea Partiers...THEY DON'T COUNT DO THEY?
So do we just do as our grandparents did and forbid the subjects of religion and politics at the dinner table?
No. We forbid attacking other people for the beliefs that they hold. We encourage open and honest and RESPECTFUL discussions and debates that center around issues; always remembering that the person on the other side of the table is our FRIEND. Instead of resorting to posting mean-spirited jokes on Facebook, we man-up (or woman-up) and educate ourselves about real issues so that we can communicate intelligently and sincerely rather than hiding behind sarcasm. That's what we do.
And in regards to Facebook friendships, I'd like to add that Facebook has done us all a dis-service by using the term FRIENDING. They have cheapened the meaning of friends. I wonder, does anyone really have 600+ friends? I can count my true friends on both hands. I've become a little wary about accepting Facebook 'friendships.' Am I really this person's friend...really? Am I genuinely interested in them and they in me? Or am I just another name to be added to their growing list?
Some final thoughts about FRIENDS...
- A friend to all is a friend to none. Aristotle
- Be true to your work, your word, and your friend. Thoreau
- Let there be no purpose in friendship other than the deepening of the spirit. Khalil Gibran
- Never contract friendship with a man that is not better than thyself. Confucious