So Far As It Depends On You – Part 1

Ever wondered what to do when one of your social media friends, followers, or connections shares something cringe worthy? Ever thought about disconnecting because of the discourse within your social media world? Ever spend more time deleting, unfollowing, blocking, or trying to refocus than you spend catching up with friends and acquaintances? Ever wondered what the difference is between friends and acquaintances in the age of social media?

Okay! That last one may be a bit of a non sequitur. Some of us likely wonder about the difference between friends and acquaintances in the real world, not just the world wide web. That may be a topic for a future essay, but today I want to focus on the first few questions.

If you have never experienced any problems with your social media presence, this piece is probably not for you. For the other 99.9999 percent of people on social media, hang on for a bit and see if this makes sense.

For the record, this piece was actually started several months ago. It has not been finished because it was, until recently, primarily an intellectual exercise. Two social media connections, who happen to be real life friends, started me down the path of wondering, when is enough enough, or when is too much too much?

One is supposedly retired.  In his case, that means he no longer charges for consulting and mentoring. The other is a full-time pastor.  He may occasionally dream of retirement after a particularly difficult week at church, but he does his best to minister to his flock.

These guys are regularly engaged in online discussions.  In more than a few cases, the discussions caused me to wonder why they maintained contact with some of their “friends.”  One case even caused me to ask the pastor how he knew someone in his network.  His response was he did not know the person but accepted friend requests from anyone.  His reasoning was that he hoped he might share or say something that would help a believer, seeker or skeptic.  In the case of my life coaching friend, the question was a bit more pointed.

I asked him, “Why do you put up with that guy?” Essentially, his response was he believes, as does this writer, that dialogue is important.  If we shut people out of the dialogue or refuse to discuss issues, things will just continue to move closer to anarchy.  He did agree there might be limits beyond which dialogue was no longer useful.

Even as an intellectual exercise, this seemed to be something worth reviewing. Of course, one’s level of interest and inspiration ratchets up a few notches when it becomes a bit more personal. That is the reason this piece is actually being written.

Both An Old Cops Place and An Old Sinners Place stopped allowing comments on blogs a couple of years ago. Instead, a link is provided to allow email comments and questions.  these are answered or acknowledged as quickly as possible. In some cases, they even inspire blog posts.

The reason for making that change was an exchange with what one might call a troll.  Personally, I believe he was an operative for a particular group pushing a particular agenda.  Whatever the reality, the individual made it clear allowing open comments on posts is a recipe for disaster if one does not have time to monitor such activity in real time. Even then, it might be a waste of time to respond to what is obviously someone else’s talking points. It is really hard to dialogue with someone working from a script.

Making the decision to stop taking comments directly through WordPress on blogs was not easy. No writer wants his or her work to be ignored, but building interest or readership through controversy or direct confrontation is of little interest to this writer. Accordingly, after much thought and prayer, the feedback mechanism was changed.

The decision was made a bit easier because blog posts are shared on personal social media sites.  Dialogue with friends or social media acquaintances still occur, but random comments from people trying to pirate one’s blog can be controlled. Now an issue has arisen on one of those sites with an old friend who is also a social media friend.

This is not the first time this particular friend and follower has posted something that went against the grain to some degree. That is the price one pays to have a diverse group of real world and social media friends. Differences of opinions arise, and in some cases people say things that might be uncomfortable for others.

Usually, these matters can be dealt with through phone calls, messaging, emails, or meeting for a cup of coffee. Anyone having a friend with whom they cannot have a frank discussion in some manner needs to reconsider the friendship, if that is what it is. The question then becomes, how many off the record conversations or cups of coffee are too many? Since you are reading this, the incident prompting this essay hit the one too many mark.

In some ways, the matter started innocently enough. Something was shared, and this individual shared something similar. Another person chimed in with a post that could have been taken the wrong way, in today’s world. It could have been considered a trigger or even a bit of micro-aggression, if one was inclined to look at it in that way. It was immediately followed up with a similar comment.  Then, the person in question commented that the remarks were judgmental, inappropriate and uncivil.

One party attempted to explain what they meant. The offended party would have none of it. As owner of that page, this writer interceded with a comment based on experience with issues such as this, and the offended party responded rather tersely one was welcome to his or her opinion, but opined there were too many uncivil comments coming from certain classes of people on social media today.

The sadly interesting part of this little dialogue was the offended party assumed the two individuals causing the offense were conservatives, possibly right-wing bigots. At least his closing remarks referenced two such groups, just before he attempted to cut off any further discussion.

In reality, one of the people he criticized is likely as liberal politically as he is. She is certainly on the same page with a number of positions he holds.  Yet, as people are sometimes wont to do, he struck out based on one comment that triggered something in him.

I thought long and hard about how to deal with the matter. Normally, if there were hope of smoothing some ruffled feathers I might have sent a conciliatory message of some sort. I also considered sending a less than conciliatory admonition calling attention to the fact that he regularly shared items on his Facebook page that many people would find offensive or uncivil. In fact, it is clear he recognizes the questionable nature of the items.  When he shares such posts or memes, he includes disclaimers such as, “Don’t shoot the messenger,” or “I’m just passing this along.”

In the end, the decision was made to cut ties with him. The decision was not made lightly, and not without a good deal of internal debate. We have known each other for more than thirty years. We worked together, volunteered together, broke bread together, and attended church together over the years. We’ve also disagreed occasionally, and I am certain we have both felt at times the other one was more than a little off base. So, one might ask, why cut ties now?

The short answer to that question is simple. The individual in question was no longer trustworthy, and maintaining a relationship was not beneficial to either of us. This is said based on many years of experience in crisis intervention, mediation, and what is now called life coaching. If a person is not trustworthy, any attempt to maintain a relationship with that individual is risky at best, foolish or dangerous at worst.

If you are still reading at this point, you likely had one of several reactions to this piece and the last paragraph. You might be thinking, what took you so long to dump this yahoo? Or, you might be thinking, that’s not very Christian of you. A third option might be the question, what gives you the right to judge this person?

Those are all good questions.  Questions I hope to answer in Part II of this analysis.  Until then, feel free to email your thoughts on what you’ve read to this point.

About S. E. Jackson

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