Friendship Training Wheels by Doug Pagitt
The Need for Friendship Training Wheels by Doug Pagitt
The advent of digital social networks allows a new kind of connectedness between people - one that helps us be friends in safe ways. And this provides an important opportunity for us all.
For centuries we have been able to interact with varied ideas, but dealing with people has been more difficult. Ideas are easily spread; they can move through books, songs, speeches, photos and the like. This exchange of differences has created some very sacred people, and some very bad habits. Far too often we have reduced people to a collection of ideas and beliefs. And when these ideas and beliefs are unfamiliar it can be scary.
Connecting with ideas is easy and can be done from a distance, but connecting with people, well that is far more difficult. To connect with a person as a human being, and not simply a holder and conveyer of ideas, has in the past be limited in that to really get to know someone you needed at least three components: time, proximity and commitment.
What the social network world opens is a new kind of connecting, person to person in ways that moderate the need for the time proximity and commitment. With personal social media sites, like Facebook and others, we are given access to the inside of people's lives. Now, this kind of connectedness is not the same as that which can be achieved with proximity, time and commitment, but does have some of its own advantages.It allows us to see pictures of people in their social lives. To get to know the friendship circle of someone. To listen to their "unimportant" things, the things that make up most of our days. Essentially, to see them and hear them as people, but from a distance. And this distance is what is needed. Time is the component that social networks provide. Time to get to know someone and be changed by them. Time to allow their reality to affect yours. Time to see them in a variety of situations.
So, here is my suggestion: Find someone who sees the world differently than you in some area that is important to you. And "friend" them in a social network. Then spend time getting to know them as people. If they have kids and they write about what they are up to read it. Look at the images they post. Follow along the trail of comments from their friends, get to know the people they know. Listen to the rhythm of their life and let it soak in.
Social networks allow us to "practice" friendship in a way that limits the risk. And in some ways a friendship without risks is not a full friendship, but that is the point. For what many of us need is a veritable "set of friendship training wheels" to help us be friends with those we disagree with in a way that is safe.
The point of these training wheels is to accomplish in our relationship that which is achieved on a bicycle - to let us learn balance and get used to riding without the danger caused by falling.
It is simply not enough to tolerate one another, but we are called to more than that, we are called to love. And to love someone we need to know them. Maybe these training wheels can be a first step in loving.