The friendship challenge

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.”
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