Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Are we selling ourselves short?

Are YOU selling yourself short?


....are you?

As some of you may know, I've stepped back from the world that is Facebook yet again.   Sometimes one just has to really take time to recharge and refocus, and I found myself at that point a few weeks ago.   I'm sort-of-kind-of there:  using messages as a means of emailing people that I need to ask questions of or respond to their messages, and on days that I knew something super exciting was happening (like the birth of a friend's baby, for example), I'd randomly sign in and scan for updates from that friend.  

My life had started to be directed by that insane "I-need-to-refresh-my-news-feed-constantly" pressure to be connected to every one of my 608 friends.   And you know what?  I wasn't enjoying that life.     I was depressed, I was disconnected, and honestly, I was often focusing on what I had just seen and read for days.    For my own sanity -- and the sake of my family -- I needed to take a breather.

So that's what I did.

And you know what happened?

A situation was thrown at me where I really needed the support of a friend.  Someone to talk to, someone to talk through the situation with, someone to help me keep my sanity.   It was like God was telling me - "Hey, Heidi, take a look at what I really want you to be doing with your relationships, now that you're not distracted...."

I found myself in a situation where I needed a friend....and I'd just removed access to 608 friends in my life.

I ended up sitting at the computer, adamant that I wasn't going to give in to the Facebook craving for connectedness during this moment of need.....with my email program opened on the computer in front of me.   I'd hit "compose message".......and it sat, blank and waiting for me to pick a recipient, for quite a while.    Who would I send an email to about this subject?   Who was out there, in my email inbox, that I could trust to keep my conversation in complete confidence, or who could help me sort through the jumble that was in my mind and make a plan for the next step, or who would honestly tell me if I was the one out of line and if I needed to correct my actions (and apologize for what had happened).   Who could I trust to tell me the truth in this situation, and keep that conversation between just us?

And how could I convey it all in black and white type through the email format?

I closed the email program.

I needed a friend.  One who I could talk to - with real conversation, not just emails.   I needed to call someone, I decided.   So I grabbed my phone.

And I sat with it in my hand.    Again, who would I call?   Who had I cultivated enough of a relationship with that I knew that they would truly listen, wouldn't turn around and tell their other friends what I'd just said, and would objectively and truthfully help me walk through the conundrum that I had found myself in.

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that I could only think of 3 people that I felt close enough to that I could talk through the situation with....and one of them was my husband, who was at work and not available for that intense of a conversation.

I did end up working my way through a resolution to that situation, so no one out there needs to worry. It's fine, and we're all fine here (I don't want anyone to be anxious!!), but this experience brought to light a different observation in my life.

I've realized that I've been selling myself short on what it means to have - and to be - a "friend."  

I've greatly lowered the bar on what it means to be a friend, in my own understanding of the word.   You see, for the past couple of years, I'd managed to grow a huge network of friends by simply hitting the "confirm" button when they asked to be my friend.    I'd "liked" a few things here and there, maybe sent a few comments or statuses their way....

....but that was it.

I'd never gone out of my way to do anything more than that.

Send a message just to say hi and how are you doing?   I could probably count on one hand the times I'd done that.

Send a card in the mail just because I was thinking of someone and wanted to tell them they were appreciated?   Umm...I'm embarrassed to admit that unless it was Christmas or sometimes a birthday, I have yet to do even this.

Pick up the phone and - gasp! - call someone just to say hi?   I can tell you it's been years since I spent any significant amount of time on the phone with more than just a couple people (one of them being my own mother).

Reach out and invite someone to do something in person?  This one, I'd been a little better at doing, since the boys and I like to go explore so much....but I can definitely say I have not been doing this enough.  

At the risk of sounding like an old stick-in-the-mud.....I'm tired of our new definition of "friendship."   A friendship is more than a click of a computer mouse.  Our new lowered expectations of what it means to be a "friend" to someone else has only led to one thing:  We are more alone than ever.

We are now a community of "friends" who tell each other the most intimate details of our lives (like when our children pee and poop successfully, or when we go to the doctor and what the results were, or when we fight with our husbands and why).....but we don't ever have conversations about them.  Real conversations.  Conversations that happen between people in real time, not in a tape-delayed fashion.  (in other words, I listen to you speak, I respond immediately, and we go back and forth.....not spread out over hours when I get a chance to comment on your statement and then a few hours later you comment back and so on.....).  We share everything with our "friends".....except for the most important aspect of relationships.   Relationships rely on the building blocks of shared experiences and shared emotions.

I think we've forgotten how to cultivate a friendship.....we've left out the shared experiences and emotional connection and replaced it with an impersonal electronic connection.

Now, I'm not at all saying that real friendships cannot come out of online connections.   They can.   You can definitely "meet" someone online and have that someone become one of you closest, most dearly loved friends.  

But it takes work and commitment.  To form a friendship, we have to move past the screen names and get to know the person on the other side of the computer.   It takes real conversations.  It takes shared experiences.   It takes cultivation.

And this is where I think we are selling ourselves short.   We've forgotten - as society - that we are MORE than a screen name.  Our online profile doesn't describe every aspect of ourselves.   How could it?   How could a list of descriptive words truly describe something as complex and mysterious as a human person?   How could a list of words truly explain the beauty and dignity that each of us holds within us?

They can't.

We are worth more than a box of descriptive words.   Our online friends are worth more than an internet profile.    They, too, are complex, mysterious, and beautiful.......and incredibly fully so that they deserve our full attention.   Not our "I'm-checking-the-status-updates-of-all-608-friends-and-I'm-going-to-comment-on-yours-then-promptly-forget" attention.   They deserve our "I-want-to-know-all-about-your-experience-at-this-moment-and-so-I'm-going-to-reach-out-to-you" kind of attention.

We are setting the bar too low.    We deserve true friendships.  

The result of setting the bar too low is that we are now finding ourselves alone.   We are a social species - we long for connection and relationships.   We crave finding others with whom we can share our innermost feelings.   We long to really know those around us.   We are made to be a community, living and working and loving alongside one another, intimately.   We desire true friendship and relationship, a shadowing of the intimate relationship that we are called to with our God.

In discussing this concept of friendship and setting the bar too low with a friend, he mentioned a side effect he'd noticed in our society.    If we can degrade the definition (and job requirements) of "friend" so thoroughly across our current is a logical step that we would start to look for that intimate connection and relationship in other places.    He pointed out that our current "hook-up" culture was only a logical result of our lack of true friendships.  We crave that connection and intimacy...and we've lost the understanding of friendship as a source of intimate connection.  

In our cheapening of the meaning of what it takes to be a friend, we've lost the ability to nurture and cultivate true friendships.  I would argue that we're no longer teaching future generations how to be a true friend to each other - after all, if all I have to do to be someone's friend is to "check the box that says yes or no" - why would I try to do anything else?  I'm already being a "good friend" by reading my newsfeed and commenting here and there on status updates or pictures, or chatting here and there through instant messaging.  If that's all a friend is.....then I'm doing a good job.   Why would I do more?

I should do more because my friends deserve it.   They deserve more of an effort from me.

I would challenge everyone to take back the meaning of the word "friend" and start to teach our society how to cultivate a true friendship.   We've already started to move on to cheapening the meaning of sex and romantic relationships.....what is next?    I honestly don't want to find out.

Like all good challenges, it starts with ourselves.   I, too, have started to try and renew my own understanding of what it means to be a friend.  I'm starting to reach out, personally, to others.   I'm trying to carve out time to really sit and chat with another person.   To get to know them.  To let them know that I think they are worth my undivided time and attention.   To let them know that I care for them and that I want to know the true them....not just their status updates.   I don't just want to see what they're doing through pictures and comments.....I want to be there to share it with them.  

It may mean that I don't end up with 608 friends in the end.....but I hope that it will mean that I end up with true friends who know that I love them for who they are:  a complex, mysterious, beautiful person who reflects my God in my life.

What about you?

**Yes, I am going to hit that "share" button on this blog, and use FB to try and reach all 608 of my friends through this blog post.    FB is good for some things - like issuing a challenge!!  :-)

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