FRIEND: one attached to another by affection or esteem, acquaintance, one that is not hostile, one that is of the same nation, party, or group, a favored companion
I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about friends lately. So, I think it’s time to discuss the word “friend.” Social media is increasing its usage but eroding its meaning. To me, the label “friend” should require more than non-hostility or the same alma mater. Like so many issues, precise language is helpful here. I wish we made more use of friend-like words and labels. I give to you the results of my search for friend synonyms:
acquaintance, ally, associate, bosom buddy, buddy, chum, classmate, cohort, colleague, companion, compatriot, comrade, consort, cousin, crony, familiar, intimate, mate, pal, partner, playmate, roommate, schoolmate, sidekick, soul mate, well-wisher
There is a difference between a label that is a matter of circumstance and one that is a matter of choice. Whether or not I am your classmate or colleague is not a choice; whether we are friends or pals is.
I’ve recently culled some folks from my Facebook feed. The effort was partly to limit the amount of information I need to process each day and partly to protect the integrity of the “friend” label. I only kept folks on my list of friends if I could answer “yes” to at least two of the following questions:
– Are we related?
– Do we see each other more than once a week?
– When you post a video/link do I watch/read it?
– Have I invited you to my home for dinner or a party?
– If you invited me to dinner or a party, would I want to go?
– Have I seen you since my highschool graduation somewhere other than a reunion?
– If I travelled to your city/state/country would I make an effort to get together?
– Would I attend your funeral?
It was harsh…I was sad to see some folks go. Yes, I’m curious about what’s happening in their lives, I like reading their musings about life, and I wish them the best. Yet, I’m not convinced we’re friends. Classmates, yes. Acquaintances, yes. Former summer-camp counselor colleagues, yes. But do I feel compelled to make them chicken noodle soup when I hear they are sick? No. Can I remember the name of their spouse/kid/pet? No.
Now, I know that all the updates I see are from people I care enough about to invest my time in the happenings of their lives. Which is good, because I’ve really been making an effort to read my Facebook news feed as if the words are being spoken. And, I’ve gotta tell you it changes things…
When I see a friend post a comment about how hauling three kids around with an arm in a sling is a pain, I am forced to do more than scroll down to the next update. “Liking” is clearly inappropriate; “hang in there” seems equally so. If a friend announced the same complaint to me in person, I would ask how I could help. So, I should ask how I can help. But even that is tricky – “how can I help?” typed on a screen doesn’t communicate the sincerity I would be able to communicate in person. Friendship requires that I call or email directly to ask if I can pick something up for her at the grocery store or swing by to sweep her floors. I want her to know I mean it.
When a friend posts that his baby is about to arrive 13 weeks premature, “hope all is well” feels grossly inadequate. If I had heard in person, I would have offered a hug. There is no comment adequate for a friend dealing with the mix of fear, and uncertainty a premature birth brings. But, it’s important to try. I have found it is usually better to admit that your words feel inadequate than to simply say nothing. And, when hugs aren’t possible, snack and reading material delivery can act as pinch hitter.
What about the mom who posts that she is parenting alone this week and is suffering the aftermath of a sleepless night? Well, I’m a big fan of that kind of authentic admission of humanity and think she deserves to be rewarded with a dinner invite or a latte delivery.
Friendship requires verbs. Hugging, laughing, cooking, sweeping, teasing, listening, crying. I’ve said it before…There is no better fertilizer for friendship than a favor. Facebook emphasizes having friends, but not necessarily being friendly. The number of friends you have is posted for all to see but there is no way to quantify the health of those friendships. Facebook does a good job providing a forum for expressing needs but isn’t usually the best forum for meeting the needs. Sometimes, you’ve got to take friendship off-line.
I’m a mother. It’s my job to teach my children about friendship. I don’t want the prolific use of the term “friend” in what is bound to be an expanding social-media landscape to cheapen their expectations or cause them to focus on quantity over quality. Instead, I want them to balance the blessing of having a friend with the responsibility of being a friend. I want them to learn a variety of ways to express friendship – kind words, practical assistance, thoughtful gifts, attentive listening, physical affection. I want them to accept and appreciate friends who are different from them, folks outside their nation, party, or group.
So, it’s time for me to get busy modeling all I want them to learn…