Sunday, July 5, 2015

To Unfriend or Not to Unfriend

My love for social media is bordering on the fatal attraction level. I've joined every type since they've been invented: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace (remember them?), LinkedIn, Instagram, Meerkat, Snapchat... the list goes on and on.

I've made new friends through these platforms, reconnected with old ones and gotten closer to current ones. For someone with an extroverted personality who wants to remain connected to everyone she's ever liked, social media has been a gift.

There are several people in my life who want nothing to do with social media. I hear reasons such as stalking concerns, privacy invasion and even fear that connecting on social media causes divorce. My answer is always that these situations are easily remedied with controls (both with online settings and personal restraint). But to no avail. 

I was raised by liberal parents. They were pretty hip and dad was always into the next new thing given his engineering background and general curiosity about everything. So exploring was always encouraged in our house as was an openness to other opinions. The more you get out in the world, the more you will find you are challenged.

During the course of my time on social media, I've followed or friended people whose opinions are very different from mine. I will often have one or more points of connectivity with them (sports, school, work) but learn so much more about them when we become internet friends.

There have been times when I am deeply committed emotionally to a point of view that I find is the complete opposite of some of these online friends. When I read their posts, I have to restrain myself. Clicking the unfriend or unfollow icon is so tempting and so easy. But is that really what I should or want to do?

I think back to my parents who subscribed to newspapers (both liberal and conservative) and read each one with interest. Sure they railed against the ultra conservative op-ed pieces but they didn't stop reading them. I think they also subscribed to the thought that their opinions needed to be tested in order for them to remain solid. 

Remembering that being out in the world means that long-held opinions might be knocked from a tight grip is the reason I don't unfriend or unfollow people. Unless that person says very hateful things, I remain connected. Reading their reactions to events along with those who agree with me is the only way for me to practice open-mindedness. 

I may not always agree with you and will challenge you sometimes but I will stand up for your right to your opinions as long as they are arrived at with logic, love and respect. 

If I surround myself with only those people who agree with me, I risk becoming an intolerant, narrow-minded autocrat whose circle will become smaller and more self-righteous as time goes on. 

I don't want to become that person nor do I want to be surrounded by those people. It is a study in that control I talked about earlier to use social media as a tool for self-discovery and growth. 

It's the opinions that we dislike that teach us who we are.