The Facebook Friend Dilemma

12/23/2015 08:01 am ET Updated Dec 23, 2016

Being a liberal Jewish west coast living/east coast transplant, my social circles have, unfortunately, never been very diverse. Like most people, I tend to gather and keep friends who are, in one way or another, much like I am, whether it's because we share similar interests or similar values. Not all of my friends, on the surface, may appear to be like me, but dig deep enough into each of their psyches or personalities and you will find recognizable traits that we share.

This is not a factor of xenophobia or deliberate choice -- it's due to where I have lived (in the suburbs, mostly) and what I have done with my time (I was a stay-at-home mom for 20 years). In college and when I was working, my social circle was comprised of much more diverse people. Had I been a working mother, my daily contacts would have been drastically different from who I saw on a regular basis while raising my children. Had I lived in an urban community -- like I do now -- the variety of people -- from ethnicity to lifestyle -- would also have been much bigger. For better or worse, that's how it is, and how it was.

One of the best things about social media for me is the opportunity to (virtually) meet and connect with people I most likely never would meet in my day-to-day real life. People at Starbucks to whom I say a pleasant hello don't share their lives with me the way my online acquaintances do on a regular basis. Because my work involves connecting with others online, I have developed a large, multi-cultural, geographically wide-ranging group of virtual friends, most of whom I've never met in person. I have friends who are far younger than I am and friends who are quite a bit older, too.

When people wonder what I can possibly find so fascinating about social media, in particular Facebook, I explain that, with over 1,800 personal connections, my newsfeed is a microcosm of the world.

I have friends whose lives revolve around hobbies and interests that I have never even heard of, much less experienced. I know nothing about raising farm animals or Zentangle, but I have learned about them from my online connections. I have friends whose religious beliefs are far more important to them than mine ever have been or will be. I see posts from some friends on a daily basis that quote scripture and relate it to their lives with eloquence and insight that takes my breath away. These are people who are as passionate about the Bible as I am about the books of Alice Hoffman or the TV show "Game of Thrones." I have friends who have experienced trauma and loss in their lives that I could never imagine having to go through, much less post about on social media. I have friends who are consistently so positive, so upbeat, that I feel envious of their optimism and energy.

And then there are those Facebook friends whose posts I just do not agree with or understand at all. Mostly these are political and, in these tense and difficult times, racist or militant. I cringe when I see posts about the right to own an arsenal of weapons or the reason any particularly conservative candidate should be our next president or why these people or those people really shouldn't be allowed to come to our country anymore. However, unlike some of my Facebook friends who proclaim that they will unfriend anyone who indicates they love guns/are voting for Trump/want a wall built on our borders, I won't unfriend. The people I disagree with most are sometimes the ones I find the most interesting -- if a little terrifying and hard to understand. They are also the ones I often learn the most from, whether what they are teaching me is true or not -- and I am fairly good at sniffing out the bullshit. I may think what these friends are saying is wrong, or misinformed, or downright idiotic -- but I will stay friends with them, unless they are hugely offensive to me, so I can understand what people who are nothing like me are thinking. It's highly unlikely I will ever change the way I think, but understanding how -- and why -- others think differently than I do is enlightening.

It's easy to spend my time agreeing with those who see the world the same way I see it. I do have some good friends in real life who have very different political views than I, but we tend to avoid talking about politics very often. On Facebook, my acquaintances whose beliefs are different from mine couldn't care less if I don't agree with them -- keeping our relationship, such as it is, peaceful is not that important to them. And so I find myself sometimes gasping at the viewpoints of people in my Facebook stream who, without social media, I never would know in the first place. I keep them as friends to keep my mind open and continually challenged.

However, if people post too many cat videos or photos of their biking injuries, all bets are off. There's only so much a person can take.

Previously published on Empty House Full Mind

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