“People who are different than me are just too easy to unfriend,” lamented a colleague recently. We were talking about relationships and how they’ve changed in the last few years. You know what I mean – how cool it is to have as many “friends” as possible on social media… how good it feels when 50, 60 or 100 people “like” my status. It’s addictive! Somewhere in the recesses of my psyche my worth is being stoked or undermined. We’ve all been there, right?
My colleague’s comment started me thinking about those “friends” who follow me, and how subtly my views are reinforced by those “likes.” Without thinking, I believe my perspective is widely held because, after all, my “friends” like what I said.
But what about dissenting “friends?” Sometimes I watch a viscous back and forth disagreement quickly disintegrate into disbelief. Positions are reinforced. Last fall, I reached the point where I got so disgusted with one of my “friend’s” views that I quickly “unfriended” them.
I’m beginning to realize how much a part of the problem I am – and I like to think I’m someone who is trying hard to be a good listener and be deeply empathetic! Where are the opportunities to come face-to-face with those who are different than me? To look them in the eye and know that, despite our dissimilarities, just like me they are a human being who suffers, wants to be healthy and has hopes and dreams. The hard-wired muscle of empathy built to confront differences, has atrophied. My tendency to believe I’m right is only reinforced by the system of “friends” I’ve created.
This is a quandary I haven’t solved for yet. But I’m noting it so I can begin to own my biases and start rebuilding my ‘disagreement-with-love’ muscle. Maybe I’ll even look for opportunities to sit down with people with whom I disagree and have a good old-fashioned learning conversation. I may not change my mind but maybe I can share my humanity a bit more deeply with them. We’ll see. Care to join me in a little physical therapy to rebuild this muscle?