It’s all worth it, hallelujah!
Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I spend inordinate amounts of time on Facebook. I struggle with the balance–hours spent face to phone reading articles, engaging with friends over politics, healthcare, and nature photos, and also work, chores, and quality time with the family. One of the people I interact with most meaningfully online is a high school classmate. He and I were friendly acquaintances back then, and I assumed at graduation that I would never see him and most of my classmates again. I will call him Al.
A while ago, through a mutual Facebook friend, I saw a post by Al saying that he wished to have civil conversations on politics with people who did not share his views. I immediately sent a friend request, which he promptly accepted. My rule is that I will be friends with people on FB who are already my friends, or with whom I want to actively cultivate friendships. Al was definitely the latter, based solely on his proclaimed desire for civil discourse. This week was our two year Facebook Friendversary. I know because he shared the notification, which I had not received.
In the first year our exchanges could be awkward, and sometimes felt tense (on my end). I noticed that while I often asked him to elaborate on his thoughts and positions, he rarely asked me. I often felt unheard and lectured to. I considered giving up on the relationship. Why bother, I thought, we live in separate states, we disagree on everything, and it’s just too stressful—I’m not even sure he cares what I think. A year ago I posted about a conversation we had about white male privilege. I decided to maintain our online friendship because despite the tension and discomfort, the exchange had given me new insights into managing the tension and discomfort.
These two years we have discussed transgender bathroom legislation, affirmative action, unconscious gender bias, racism, and climate change, among other things. We have always been civil, and conversations feel more relaxed and congenial these days. Al types more words now than he used to, he asks me what I think about things, and has expressed more consideration for my point of view in this second year. It moved me when he wrote that when his coworker came to work distraught and crying over the presidential election, he hugged her. [For the record, my friend is a Republican and not necessarily a Trump supporter.] Throughout our intereactions, I have always remembered my fundamental assumptions of this man, whom I don’t actually know that well: That he is a kind and honest person, that he wants all people to enjoy happy, healthy lives, that he has natural unconscious biases as I do (and these do not make us bad people), and that he is sincerely interested in my point of view.
Our most recent exchange almost brought me to tears because I finally felt fully seen, heard, and understood by this person who barely knew me 25 years ago, lives 800 miles away, and whose life experiences lie surely on the other end of any spectrum from mine. I share the thread below.
So many people decry social media, and rightfully so. It’s too easy to descend into mindless flaming and impulsive ad hominem attacks from the safety of a screen and keyboard. And I still struggle with the time sink and distraction. But today I feel good about my SoMe usage. To me, this two year, ‘virtual’ friendship I have cultivated feels as real as any other. I hope Al feels similarly. I look forward to the next two years and beyond on Facebook, and perhaps an in-person encounter in the foreseeable future.
On Being Wrong
CC: OH MY GOD YEESSS!!
If you are serious about or remotely interested in self-awareness and connecting better with your fellow humans, understanding this idea, even if only intuitively, is a fundamental requirement.
[Julia Galef’s TED talk on soldier vs. scout mindset, and how holding either influences how and whether we examine our beliefs]
AL: Have you seen this?
[Kathryn Schultz’s TED talk on embracing our fallibility]
CC: I have not! Will view soon!
AL: I eagerly await your thoughts on it. It’s dang near life changing.
CC: I watched it! And I will happily tell you my thoughts, but since you posted it and made the ‘damn near life changing’ claim, I request that you go first. And if you could also comment on the talk from the original post–feel free to go all expository–that would be great, also! I promise to reply in kind!
AL: It was the line that feeling wrong is the same a feeling right. And the idea at how unreliable your feelings are. But I really like questioning one’s sense of rightness.
CC: Follow up question: how has this talk changed your own approach to ‘feeling right,” or how you engage with people with whom you disagree?
AL: I can’t say I’ve completely abandoned my feeling of rightness. It’s just so nice to feel right. But I try to loosen my grip on the feeling of rightness and make fewer assumptions.
CC: Thank you. I hear you, it is so delicious to feel right–to feel *righteous*… And I like this, “loosen my grip on the feeling of rightness” (and righteousness?). What assumptions are you making less, may I ask?
AL: I can’t think of general areas right off the top of my head. But more often than before I try to remind myself I don’t have all the facts and there could be something I don’t know. This has to do more with interpersonal interactions. Like I try not to act on my initial assumption of someone else’s motivations.
[I ‘loved’ this reply]
CC: I am not sure you could ever know how happy it makes me to read this. This is all I ever want from people–to just slow down, withhold judgment *a little*, especially about one other’s motivations. It has taken me too long to learn that everybody has a unique and VALID personal story, and that elements of that story always influence how we approach any problem or circumstance, for better or worse. The more open we can be to one another in this way, the fewer and less contentious our conflicts will be, I am CONVINCED. And, it’s sooooo much easier said than done. And, the first step is an awareness of its importance. The second step is an intention and commitment to practice, no matter how many times we fail, and/or others fail. I have to go see a patient now… Maybe I’ll write more. But really, I’m almost in tears right now. I feel vindicated, in a way. Thank you.
[Al ‘loved this reply.]