Diversity in friendships {Thankful Thursday}

In last week’s Thankful Thursday post, I praised the internet and technology for enabling us to maintain relationships over great distances, both through travel planning and by providing easy communication.  This week I want to praise the internet for bringing us other points of view so we can keep our own up to date.

A world of influencers

Most of us have some form of a social media account.  Facebook is the third most popular website on the internet (exceeded only by Google and YouTube, respectively).  Twitter ranks #8, Instagram is #17.  In fact, 6 of the top twenty sites on the internet, as measured by Alexa, are social networking sites of one kind or another.  This means that tons of people are sharing their points of view everywhere we look.

Echo chambers

There is a problem I have noticed, though, in that we tend to build little echo chambers for ourselves.  When we disagree with others online, or take offense at something they posted, it is very easy to simply unfriend them, or unsubscribe from their feed.  If we don’t know them in real life also, then we lose their perspective.  They will no longer influence us.  Eventually, this leads to all of our social networks repeating the same ideas, the ones we are comfortable with.  What is wrong with this?  Well, it means that you only ever see one side of any issue.  It means you are never pushed outside of your comfort zone , which is the only way you can grow, either intellectually or spiritually.

For example, I am pretty left-leaning in my philosophies in general.  I am decidedly not Christian.  Although I would never choose it for myself, I support the right to abortion.  I have surrounded myself online with many people who feel similarly.  This has created an echo chamber where my liberal friends look down on Republicans, whom they accuse of not being pro-life because they cut funding for social safety nets.  They declare that if Republicans truly cared about the unborn, they would care about them after they are born, too, and support the food stamp programs that feed them, for example.  I have long rankled at the idea that pro-life is the opposite of pro-choice for this very reason.

Maintain diverse friendships

One thing that I have been careful not to do, however, is to unfriend everyone with whom I disagree on a subject or five.  Yes, there are big issues out there for people to disagree on, but there are so many more that we can agree on.  So I have a friend who is devoutly Catholic.  We don’t agree on religion, but we do agree on many other things.  We love our families dearly, we strive to be frugal, we struggle to figure out what to feed our kids, we believe everyone should be allowed dignity.  And since I have kept her in my friends online, I am seeing that even the things we disagree on, might not be so far apart as they seem.  She, too, is a blogger, and has a much larger network online than I do), so the comments on her posts expose me to a very different perspective than the rest of my feed.

Because of this, I am learning that (newsflash!) stereotypes rarely fit individuals.  And they don’t always fit their groups, either.  My friend’s friends (predominantly more right leaning than I) also are frustrated with the Republicans for not doing enough to help struggling families.  I was so struck when I saw a sentiment I had often seen in my echo chamber feed repeated by “the other side.”  This was a moment of clarity.  I felt a connection.  I felt like, for once, we were on the same side.  That does not mean we were on the same side for once, but rather for the first time, I felt like we were on the same side.

Different means, same ends

As I sit here thinking about it, I bet that we are all on the same side way more often than we realize.  We all love our families, and strive to do the best we can for them.  We all want to be the best person we can be.  Our goals are more similar than we acknowledge. It is our methods of achieving them that differ.

If we can but stand in each others shoes every once in a while, and see things from another’s point of view, then we can work towards our common goals with less division.  We can pass legislature that truly protects everyone.  We can eliminate fear, which is often founded upon lack of knowledge.  And the only reason it is unfamiliar is because we have not been exposed to it, whether by our own choice in creating echo chambers, or by simple ignorance.  Sometimes we truly don’t know what it is that we don’t know, and that is fine as long as we are willing to learn about it once we are shown that ignorance.

So here is to diversity in our friendships, whose differing viewpoints can expand our understanding of an issue.  With greater understanding can come a shift in beliefs.  We learn that the other is not so different from us.  We can expand our compassion, better articulate our opinions using facts rather than fear.  We can grow spiritually or intellectually.

Your turn

Do you have a diverse set of friends?  Do you make sure you are exposed to new ideas and other points of view on a regular basis?  Have you ever changed your mind on a major issue because of it?  I would love you hear about your experiences in the comments below.

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