Wednesday, May 4, 2011

“The ‘Unfriend’ Option”

            Opening my Facebook account last year offered opportunities to bond with the other teachers on my campus. Our school, a new one in the district, suffered administrative changes and faculty turnover for several years that left us battered. Teachers, isolated in their rooms with students all day, usually find a common place to unwind and vent. Our younger and newer teachers, believing the teacher’s lounge to be a toxic waste dump, stayed in their rooms during lunches and conferences. Veteran teachers, trying to stay optimistic, selectively surrounded themselves with positive thinkers. And the common place to meet, the lounge, remained relatively empty for the first few years. When one teacher mentioned her Facebook account, she suggested we could all open our own and use it to get to know one another better. It worked like a charm, too. Those sixth grade teachers off in their own wing suddenly had dogs tracking mud through their houses, or kids smirking for the camera. The music and art teachers, off in their own island, now became more than just faces in a faculty meeting. With a few clicks, our fragmented faculty bonded.
            I rejoiced in the pleasure of sending a friend request! Before long, I shifted from present co-workers to people from my past campuses. I loved reconnecting with these friends. There are those people that you enjoy being with at work, but never have the time to meet with after hours. These were the friends that Facebook allowed me to “visit” daily. This virtual tie allowed us to share aspects of our lives and philosophies that isolated phone calls never opened.
            Needless to say, I ventured from current friends and co-workers into the realm of college and high school friends. To this day, several of my closest friends from high school haven’t surfaced on Facebook, but I still check periodically. I made the conscious decision of sending out friend requests to anyone I remembered—even if it included someone I didn’t know well, or even like, back in high school. “People change. They grow up,” I told myself as I sent out or accepted requests.  Imagine my delight to find pleasure in the posts from many of these people. Several charmed me with their insights, made me smile with their wit, and challenged me with their views.
            I made my final venture into friend requests to my in-laws as they opened their accounts. I have a painful history with my husband’s family, but I hoped that sharing through a structured medium like Facebook would help lower some of the barriers. Unfortunately, differences between us became highlighted, and Facebook became just another way for them to leave us out of their lives.
            After more than a year, I began using the “unfriend” option. Did someone make me feel like less of a person? Did they post more negative things about life than positive? Did they make comments that degraded my other friends for their beliefs? I didn’t use the concept of “agreement” with my views as the criteria. I’m a devout worshipper of protecting our planet. I believe in a gentler society that cares for and nurtures its citizens. I don’t believe having more or being the best at the diminishment of others is the way for personal happiness. Finding people that mirror my beliefs isn’t the purpose of this social venture. However, I don’t want meanness. I don’t want people who only post platitudes. I love different opinions, but I don’t want someone cutting down my views with hatefulness.
            One day, I culled down my list. I scrolled down my friend’s list and selected names, shot over to their pages, clicked “unfriend” swiftly. Do I have regrets? No. I’m back to enjoying my daily excursions on Facebook. I’m certain there are people who will use the “unfriend” option on me, but I know it will because of my views and not my nature.

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

3 comments:

  1. I haven't used the "unfriend" option yet, but I have used the "block this person" setting preemptively. Social networking has been a good thing for me, and I'm happy to have lively debates about issues, as long as they remain respectful. I do post platitudes, and I don't mind seeing the platitudes of others. I like encouraging and being encouraged! I don't even mind people's strong emotional stands, but the hateful thing isn't tolerable. Too many people are addicted to the adrenaline rush that they get from hating. They should get their high somewhere else.

    Very articulate and well-thought article!

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  2. There is a reason why my Facebook Friends are so few. I figure if you didnt like me in high school you wont like me now. I have not improved with age, just gotten more aggressive. I have also unfriended some because I think they and I would be more comfortable that way. At my age I have learned that I do not suffer fools.

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  3. I, too, choose to block rather than un-friend (so far...) Sometimes debates can get lively. My nephew and I had radically different takes on recent news events. We battled it back-and-forth over the course of half-an-hour or so. Then, the next day, I "liked" an adorable update featuring his oldest son. I'm thinking that it can sometimes be a great way to exercise self-control by NOT commenting when someone is clearly an idiot.

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