Friends, Enemies and Neighbors on Social Media

Crazy couple screaming over chalkboard background

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While the Godfather might have lived by the motto, “keep your friends close but your enemies closer”, most of us shut out enemies out and listen only to our friends.  This is human nature.

These thoughts occur to me as I reel from the flurry of angry and angst-ridden posts on Facebook. We have endured a particularly long and relentless period of political and sociological tensions dating back to the last Bush presidency. That the angst seems to have arisen with the rise in popularity of social media sites, I think, is no coincidence.

Regardless, the Bush, Obama and now Trump presidencies have proven to be fraught with angst and angry rhetoric from all sides. Social media was barely a thing when George W. Bush exited office, though he did exit office under a barrage of social media posts.

Considering human nature, and assuming that we all want our voices to be heard and taken seriously, perhaps we should think a little deeper about the difference between the voices of friends and enemies. Maybe an understanding of human nature, including our own, might help us to be heard better than it seems we are now.

We all have the same tendencies, including the tendency toward knee-jerk reactions when we have the tools at our fingertips to respond quickly to happenings in the world and an urge to let out two cents be known. We all have different ways of viewing things from an intellectual and moral standpoint. Though we have differences, we have more similarities than differences and, ultimately, most of us want the same thing: we want a better world in which to live and raise our families.

Much of the angst-ridden, angry social media posts are friends talking to friends or friends talking to enemies. We tend to find ourselves in an echo chamber of similar thinking voices or, heaven forbid, our post gets hijacked by the voices of the enemy position. Either it is a love fest or shrill volley of angry banter.

Maybe a different paradigm is in order. We are much more apt to listen to and respond positively to something a friend says then something an enemy says. Our friends are more likely to listen to us than our enemies. To that extent, I’m not sure why we seem to think that treating people who disagree with us as enemies will help us along in any dialogue.

The new paradigm to suggest is this: treat everyone like neighbors. We may not view neighbors in the same way as we view friends, but we typically don’t view our neighbors as enemies. We are probably more apt to listen to our neighbors than we are to our enemies. Perhaps, we should be treating each other more as neighbors than we do.

Neighbors, at least, tend to show each other respect. We may not be intimately familiar with all of our neighbors. We may not have a lot on common, other than living in the same corner of the world. We may not even agree on much with our neighbors. But, most of us, have a modicum of common respect for the people who live around us.

If we respected our neighbors on social media, we could have some real dialogue. Respect doesn’t mean agreement. Respect simply honors someone else’s right to have thoughts different than mine. Respect means giving some room to another person to express those thoughts. and it means trying to understand them.

I can’t help but think that much of the hyperbole, half-truth and over-exaggeration on social media would disappear if we simply respected each other.

I’m not sure what we try to accomplish by reacting in the ways that we do. The way that we often react drives wedges between people, polarizes people and entrenches people into friendly and enemy camps. This is not a productive way of conducting dialogue in a free modern society.

If I listen to someone else and try to understand where she is coming from and to respect her views that doesn’t mean that I am conceding her position or abdicating my position. It doesn’t mean that I’m giving in to the enemy. I’m simply listening to my neighbor and trying to understand her.

We would have better dialogues and a better understanding of each other if we treated each other like neighbors, rather than enemies. We might even become friends.

One thought on “Friends, Enemies and Neighbors on Social Media

  1. Pingback: Friends, Enemies and Neighbors on Social Media | Navigating by Faith

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