“I want to de-friend everyone.”
11 years ago, in 2004, I would have pulled out my phone and remembered the ghosts of jilted hookups and exes. Old numbers associated with sour people long since “deleted” – effectively, from my flip phone and my life. I could no longer offer them anything. Yet, every once in awhile, a picture would surface, a memory, back from a time when me and said person were judicious, good listeners, friends. I only knew friendships had run out when that essential thing closed: the gap between my capacity to listen, my willingness to reach back, and my desire to move on. The first “unfriending” happened long before social media.
To be honest, I don’t know much about my friends. I don’t know exactly what most do for a living. I mean, I have a vague idea, but we don’t talk about it. I don’t know where many of them grew up, what their old relationships were like, or whether or not they still talk to their parents. Except for a few, I haven’t grown up with them, and my window into their youth is just a #TBT on Instagram. But what do I know about them? I know their intimate opinions on everything from Bill Cosby, fantasy football, and the lack of a conviction in the Michael Brown shooting.
This doesn’t just go for friends or friends-of-friends. I don’t know my co-workers either – whether they’re happy in their relationships, what their old/new jobs are like, whether they’re going home for Thanksgiving- but I know their intimate opinions. I know that at, as of last night, some of them were ripped apart internally. I read every feeling they’ve ever had about race in 140 characters or less. That’s how I know some of the people I see every day.
I’ve also seen ignorance run the gauntlet. I’ve seen ignorance from people I don’t know: retweets, comments, shared posts. I’ve seen ignorance from people I do know, from every state. I’ve also seen intelligence run the gauntlet – some of my friends, and some of their friends are extremely smart and deep. My girlfriend is super smart and one of the most thoughtful people I know.
It’s not just Ferguson covered in tear gas, it’s the internet too. As a tear gas can spits into the air, we can’t breathe and, worse yet, can’t talk. The internet conversation has become so choked that there is no room for dialogue, only opinions-as-fact. The media tells us it’s either one way or the other, but we’re smarter than that, we know it’s not. The best way to a clear opinion is education. The only way to move us forward is to teach. I’m 28 and I’d like to be a father one day. I’d like my son or daughter to grow up and see potential in every single person, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. I’d like them to never write 140 characters of hate or ignorance. To never see the internet as a forum to attack others behind a false assurance that what they think is right or just must be the truth, definitively and absolutely.
It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to burn with the desire to just splatter paint against this open canvas; to want nothing more than to spend hours spewing vitriol back at any and all comers. But let me challenge you to use that desire to paint something coherent, to talk to a friend, to dialogue and to listen. Don’t react with your guts or your knees. If you have questions, ask someone or look up the answers. When you put things out there in the world, when you post or write, remember that sometimes, those words will be how people, even people you interact with every day, come to know you the best.