Those of you who frequent social media, specifically Facebook, know what I mean when I say someone “friended” you. You might also be one of those unlucky schlups to know what it means to be “defriended.”
If you are unhip to the lingo of Facebook, the whole purpose is to “friend” people you know. Once “friends” you can share pictures of your children doing something unnaturally cute or hilarious photos of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka saying something pithy.
You can also post your thoughts about current news or sports events or just post something mind-blowing like “Going out to eat. Woot, woot!” or “Just woke up. Wish I could go back to bed”.
But, from time to time, your posting of videos of cats playing a harmonica or your willingness to share a somewhat-related-to-politics musing might place you in the crosshairs of a “friend” who may not want to be your “friend” anymore. This is when the dreaded “defriend” function becomes reality.
This happened to me for the first time the other night.
After nearly a decade of membership in the worldwide Facebook community I apparently said something that caused one of my “friends” to resort to the nuclear option of the “defriend” function.
Now, I am not a bashful person and all of those “friends” in my Facebook network know full well that I am willing to state my opinions on just about any issue from politics to sports to news to religion.
While I am an open and willing participant in the universe of Facebook conversation every one of my “friends” know that I am nothing but respectful, open to the views of all, willing to admit when I am wrong, and keep all of my conversations civil and humorous. Facebook for me is an open place for dialogue and everyone knows it.
So, it came as a shock to me when a conversation the other night took a turn I wasn’t expecting which resulted in a “friend” no longer being my “friend” on Facebook. The conversation had to do with the recent events surrounding Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk of Court in Kentucky who was jailed after refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Rest assured that this column will not be about Kim Davis, gay marriage, religion or any other hot-button issue.
Rather this outward contemplation is about the current state of discourse in America and how the world of Facebook has fundamentally changed the way we agree to disagree with each other.
We are more polarized as a society than ever before. We are a society whose heels are dug in on one side or another and the other be damned. We are at a point where meeting in the middle with respect for differing opinions has been shunned. We are becoming a people who can’t stand that someone disagrees with us.
And the way we deal with it is to “defriend” the opposition. It is the Defriendification of America and the erosion of civil discourse.
Think about public discourse in society today. In most cases dealing with most situations in America there is either one side or the other and you land on this side or that side. If you are on “my side” you are my friend but, if you are on the “other side” you are my enemy. And you are a target for ridicule and criticism.
Being “right” and “wrong” is another part of the “Defriendification” process. We have entered an era in American public discourse in which one side has to be right and one side has to be wrong. If I think I am “right” you must be “wrong” and don’t make any attempt to debate the issue. Because I’m right and you’re wrong.
Look at the current debates raging today and view them through the theory of “Defriendification”.
Political candidates claiming the mantle of being right while the opposition is clearly in the wrong according to them. If you are for the other guy you must be against something and most definitely a horrible human being. Everything is an “us versus them” contest and if we win we are moving forward without those who dared to challenge us.
Christians are calling other Christians names and claiming the others “aren’t Christian enough” or the “right type of Christian.” We have believers within the same faith seemingly waging war against each other. “How dare you believe differently than I do! You must not be a great Christian like I am because you believe differently.” I didn’t know that one Christian could claim victory in the righteousness battle over a fellow Christian.
There are so many examples of this in society right now. #BlackLivesMatter versus #AllLivesMatter. Republicans versus Democrats (heck, even Republicans versus Republicans and Democrats versus Democrats). Conservative Christians versus Progressive Christians. Christians versus Muslims. Baby Boomers versus Millennials. Cats versus Dogs. Ohio State versus *ichigan. Trump versus anyone who gets in his way.
Everything is a constant battle and there is never a true winner. Just a side that didn’t lose as bad.
And the only viable result of all of this conflict and unwillingness to be respectful of the differing opinions of others in a world dominated by the functions of social media is that anyone who disagrees with you will ultimately be “defriended”.
At what point did this become normal? At what point did this become how we as Americans decided we would deal with disagreement? At what point did meeting in the middle become something to be shunned?
President Reagan said it eloquently when he said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.”
We have completely forgotten those words today. If someone doesn’t agree with us 100 percent we assume they are an enemy and we tag them for destruction.
There is one last point in the “Defriendification” process that I find to be the most damaging to society. If we disagree with someone, and even when we do agree with them, we are quick to question their motives and immediately assume their have nefarious intentions. It’s as if disagreement with someone automatically means they have a hidden agenda and are not to be trusted.
There is no longer trust in society. We don’t trust each other enough to respectfully disagree, work together, and find common ground for the good of all. We don’t trust our neighbors who disagree because we assume they want to take away our rights, or hinder our freedom, or just want to do bad things.
As a society, as a group of people living together on this planet, we must once again find our ability to work together, even in disagreement. We have to stop judging, assuming intentions are bad, demanding 100 percent agreement, forcing an “us versus them” and “right versus wrong” mentality.
If we do not find this balance, this ability to disagree with respect and yet still move forward, the only option will be the complete “Defriendification” of society.
A house divided against itself cannot stand. And a society in which no one is willing to be friends will be a society void of hope and unable to progress.
We must make the “defriend” function in society a thing of the past. And if you don’t agree, you’re wrong. Because I’m right. Always.
Jarrod Weiss lives in New Vienna and is a teacher in the Hillsboro City Schools district. He can be reached at [email protected].