07 January 2016

In Response to "The 7 Types of People You Should Unfriend on Facebook" (by Lindsay Holmes)

Huffington Post's Healthy Living editor Lindsay Holmes recently published an article advocating unfriending seven types of people from one's social media circles. The premise of the article is that getting rid of the seven types of people she describes will create a healthier life.

I disagree.

First and foremost, unfriending someone is, in most cases a hostile act. Hostile acts such as unfriending someone require negative energy. This is the exact opposite effect Ms. Holmes purports to achieve in her suggestion of unfriending the types of people she suggests. There are less hostile and non-hostile ways of disengaging with individuals one may consider to be irritating.

As I set forth below, I believe that the vast majority of "types of friends" Ms. Holmes suggests unfriending are those one may very well wish to keep in their circles, as such friendships -- whether "in real life" or "through social media" have real value in our lives.

1. The Political Ranter

At the top of her list is "the political ranter," as she calls them. She likens them to having "the proverbial drunk uncle at the Thanksgiving table" except they're now part of your life every day. Her advice is that while people are free to share their opinions, that doesn't mean you have to listen to them, so we should ditch them -- as if to imply that doing so were as simple as one would change the channel.

How very callous an attitude, and how very uninformed. It appears to be the uninformed perpetuating a lack of information, and I take umbrage with that. More often than not, "the political ranter" is that person (or those people) in our life who is trying to raise awareness about the issues we face in today's society. In a media landscape nearly devoid of true journalists, it is the political ranter who often delivers the real news of the day.

The "political ranter" serves an additional purpose of providing a safe space in which we, as a society, can debate the issues we face. The "political ranter" offers a variety of differing viewpoints, and some who thoroughly enjoy the debate will even play the devil's advocate. It's a way of maintaining one's wits and sharpening one's mind. Maintaining a sharp mind is an asset no matter one's profession.

A gaggle of "political ranter" type friends ensure that we, as a democratic society, maintain participation in our democratic system and are able to formulate opinions and make choices come election time -- of which there is a dearth in our zeitgeist (especially in the USA). Participating in our democratic system requires an educated electorate. It is the "political ranter" who serves the very thankless task of educating our society.

Unfortunately, the "political ranter" is a scorned member of today's society -- one whom others do not wish to be bothered with and for whom they have no time. And it is because of this very sad fact that we in the USA are left with a mere 11.1% of eligible voters choosing our elected officials (composed of a majority (51%) of a plurality (36.4%) of registered voters, who comprise 60% or so, on the average, of all eligible voters) -- or only one out of every nine eligible voters choosing who gets to represent us in our governments! Even when the voter turnout of 62.3% was extraordinarily high (the highest level seen since 1968), a mere 18.1% of our eligible voters are deciding who our representatives are in government.

Finally, it is the "political ranter" who is most apt to get us to fulfill the purpose of social media: to engage and interact with others. That is, to be social!

2. The Negative Nancy

Those who perennially see the glass as half-full can't comprise all of the world's views. We need a dose of reality. The pessimists in our circles keep us in check. They ensure we're not running around with our heads in the clouds all the time. Those who constantly point out the "why nots" of doing something force us to re-examine (or in many cases, examine for the first time) the "whys" of doing it. And in some instances, the "whys" don't quite add up. Think of the "negative nancy" as learning through osmosis.

The "negative nancy" also serves another purpose: every so often, they allow themselves to see the glass as being half-full -- usually after someone (a friend) points out the flaw in their negative thinking. There's an extremely exhilarating feeling one gets when one is able to turn the pessimist's frown upside down. While pessimism can be difficult to spread, optimism often is more contagious.

3. The Ex-

There are good reasons for getting an Ex-whatever out of your life. For instance, if your Ex was abusive, the best course of action is to have as little -- if any -- contact with them, in any form or venue.

But there are also good reasons for keeping them in it, as well. For instance, if you're the sort of clingy Ex who thinks "there might still be hope" at getting back together, seeing their relationship status change from "single" to "in a relationship," "engaged," or "married" might just be that push you need to finally let go and move on. Or perhaps you're the Ex who dumped the other and feel a bit of guilt about dating again, and won't truly have peace of mind (or feel that it's safe, if your Ex is the clingy sort) until you see that THEY have moved on...

Then again, perhaps your Ex owes you something -- money, perhaps? If you see your ex taking a fancy holiday or buying an expensive new -- whatever -- then you'll have some ammunition to get them to pay up and bring your relationship to a final close.

Another -- and perhaps the most important -- reason to stay connected with your ex is that you share something with them: a child(ren). As a good parent, you'll want as many embarrassing photos of your children as you can get your hands on to use as blackmail when they grow up for posterity, and of course so you can show their kids (your grandchildren) what they were like at their age (it seems the grandkids always do seem to get a kick out of that, don't they?).

Finally, and perhaps the best reasons to not disconnect your Ex in the realm of social media, you might still be actual friends with them! Sometimes an Ex who doesn't cut it as a lover/husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend makes a great "just friend." Why rule out that possibility? Perhaps some real-life distance can be just what's needed to become FBBs, or Facebook Besties!

One word of advice, though: staying friends with an ex usually is easier after a "cooling off" period where you have no contact. That doesn't necessarily mean unfriending them on Facebook, although you might want to unfollow them for a while or use Facebook's "Take A Break" feature so you won't see as much of them online as you would have in the past.

4. The "Best Life" Acquaintance

Ms. Holmes suggests taking the hostile action of unfriending a grade-school classmate whose engagement photos may have popped into your stream but otherwise really don't have much to do with. Rather than take such hostile and negative action, turn this into an opportunity. Reach out to your classmate, congratulate them on their nuptials, and see if you can reignite a long-lost friendship -- or create a new one.

We've all had classmates we were closer to than others. In my personal experience, I've found that I'm now much closer to some of my classmates with whom I barely interacted, and have mostly lost touch with many of those I then considered to be my best mates. My "new" old friendships are the results of engaging with old classmates through social media.

If someone is showing their joy in a social setting, I believe a more appropriate response to be sharing in that joy, and radiating the positive energy that this happy person obviously wishes to send into the Universe. I would not, as Ms. Holmes suggests, use it as an excuse to send negative energy into the Universe by taking the hostile action of unfriending them. That's what haters do, isn't it?

5. The Attention-Seeker

There are a number of supportive, positive reactions one could have in response to a friend's "Today was the worst day in my life...but I don't want to talk about it" status update:

1) Ask them what they do wish to talk about,
2) Express sympathy for their having gone through such a bad day,
3) Let them know that you're there for them if they ever do want to talk about it,
4) Simply Like the status update, or
5) merely ignore it.

None of these five reactions uses negative energy and the first four show support for what your friend is going through.

Moreover, consider that the attention seeker is in reality sending out a plea for help, perhaps in the only way they know how. An article by Billi Gordon Ph.D in Psychology Today asserts that: "Excessive attention seeking is not a character flaw. It is a brain wiring response to early developmental trauma caused by neglect."

The Guardian's Oliver Burkeman offers this insight on the attention-seeker:
We think of "attention-seeking" as a character flaw. Start to see it instead as a universal need – met in healthy or unhealthy ways – and all sorts of things fall into place: celebrity meltdowns and internet trolling, but also many of your partner's or your colleagues' otherwise inexplicable quirks. (Or your own.) Life is an open-mic night, and we're all just trying to get noticed.
In today's world of "Likes" it could take all of a split-second to appease your friend. And then, maybe you can get to the root of what's causing them to engage in what many perceive to be annoying behavior and either help them see what they're doing or help them find the help they need to engage with others in more constructive ways. Isn't that something that's worth doing?

6. The Braggart

There isn't much of a difference for me between the Braggart and the Best Life Acquaintance. For someone who had a really awesome holiday, why not enjoy the photos they've shared and learn what you can through their experience? Be happy that they are in a position in their life where they've been able to do this and share their experiences with others.

For the person who posts their daily gym or workout achievements -- or achievements of any kind (I baked cookies today, this is what I made for dinner, this is what I ate for lunch, etc.), we often don't know about the many struggles people face in today's world. If something was important enough for someone to create a status update about it in social media then rejoice in that achievement with them.

We should use these seemingly minor, daily achievements to support our friends, not distance ourselves from them.

7. Anyone who makes you feel crappy about yourself

This is too overly broad for my tastes. Rather than take the hostile action and put negative energy out into the Universe by someone who makes you feel bad about yourself, I'd first ask why that person makes you feel bad about yourself. If the answer is not that they're being abusive or attacking you (or others you care about), then perhaps you can find something of value in maintaining them as a friend -- at least through social media. Self-exploration and inner reflection is only one such valuable reason that has the additional benefit of potentially uncovering the truth behind why what they post makes you feel badly about yourself.

8. Overall

There's a theme in Ms. Holme's suggestions that's too simplistic: If it's perceived to be negative, it should simply be dismissed and done away with, as if it were a consumer product in our throw-away society. Have we really reached the point of devolution where our friendships -- our social connections -- have become something so easily disposable?

Life, as the good Captain implies, is not always easy. It can take work--lots of it! And often, as Lt. Cmdr. Data discovers, it takes a new way of tackling a problem to achieve success, or using or gaining a new perspective of looking at a certain situation to see the beauty and value in it.

Rather than cull your circle of friends to a homogenized group of individuals who mirror your own life, I implore you to delve head-first into the cornucopia of relations that can be found in the land of social media, which is an agent of the egalitarian society. Social media allows the abjectly impoverished the same chance, ability, and access to engage with the Hollywood Glamour Stars, the elected representatives of our governments, the spiritual leaders of our world, the grandmothers, the sisters, the cousins, the brothers, the fathers, the grandfathers, aunts, uncles, mothers, and the countless others who exist in social media today.

Social media provides everyone who participates in it an ability to travel the world, all without ever taking a physical step. It opens doors, windows, roads, waterways, and airways that enable us to connect with others without regard to physical obstacles such as spatial coordinates. It gives us access to a diversity so rich with choice and variation that no human could possible fully know all it encompasses.

A mere generation ago, we placed value on diversity, on new experiences, and on broadening our horizons. Now, the emphasis is on being just like everybody else. Diversity of thought, of debating one another's opinions, and of expressions of individuality have all but disappeared from the social, political, educational, artistic, and even economical (in terms of moving toward a society of a few haves and vast supermajority of have-nots) facets of today's society.

The myriad benefits of diversity empower us to grow both individually and as a people. It affords us the chance to open our minds, eyes, ears, and hearts. It presents an immense opportunity to rejoice and share in the positive energy flowing throughout our Universe.

Seek out the diversity that exists in social media. Use it to expand knowledge of the self and knowledge outside the self. Most importantly, engage and interact with those who are not part of your homogenized lives. The purpose of social media is to engage and interact with others; without doing so, one does not reap the benefits of this amazing, friend-enabling technology.