Is It Right To Unfriend?

2 05 2011

I am thinking back to being 7 and what it was like to lose a friend. When I was seven, computers were non-existent, so losing a friend happened the old-fashioned way: they simply stopped inviting me to be in their orbit. Sometimes it happened almost imperceptibly where the interactions and invitations came less and less and the friendship would fade into the past; sometimes it came with a little shock and awe: “I am not inviting you to my Birthday Party.” It stung. It really stung when the loss happened like that, often peppered with other unkindnesses: broken confidence, gossip, rumors.

As the years passed, this was the general formula with some variations of how one lost a friend. And I shouldn’t say that it just happened to me; I also broke friendships.

Now the loss of friendship has another twist: unfriending. This is the computer variety where someone’s “friend list” on Facebook, for example, lengthens and shortens as one adds and subtracts people.

First of all, one must argue for or against the validity of the “friend list”. Sometimes people on my list are acquaintances from the long ago past and I’m just curious to know what they have done for the last 20 years; or there are people I met one time at a party and struck up a conversation, enough to find out they are on Facebook; or the friend of a friend of a friend who sells some sort of gadgetry I was interested in so I added them. So not “friends” in the truest sense.

Still, there is the list of my network and so I want to know, is it ever right to unfriend someone? The answer is yes, of course; some people are abusive or inappropriate in their posts. Why should I subject myself or my friends to that? But then the question, do you just unfriend and allow that person to stumble across their banishment? Or should there still be a process that involves a conversation?

Maybe I am making too big a deal out of this; but I don’t think so. I think that when I find myself in a conflict with someone and if that conflict is not easily resolved, there is a good chance I will find myself off their friendship list. It is an easy knife to thrust.

I have been unfriended several times. I mean I have lost friends by the traditional means too (terribly painful), but in the last few years I have found myself “on the out” on Facebook and didn’t know I had been removed. It causes me to pause and ask myself, what made this person feel OK about doing that? And, if we hold up Christ’s standard as important, is that OK for a follower of His to do that? Are these people who I am in some way connected to via Facebook…my neighbor?

I wrestled with this with someone who was on my Friend List. He wasn’t a close friend, he was someone I met from another group on a missions trip I was on. He posted on my wall here and there and then he started arguing with friends of mine that he didn’t even know. I spoke to it and there was no change. I didn’t know what would be appropriate in this situation. I couldn’t just “unfriend” him, I felt. He would notice eventually and that felt pretty rude. So I emailed him and said that I was open to staying in contact with him, that I wasn’t trying to hurt him, but I needed to remove him from my Facebook because his interactions were confusing to people who didn’t know him.

Like it or not, unfriending (if you were a friend) is a statement. It tells the person on the other end that you consciously took the time to remove them. You do not want to see their face. You do not want to hear their voice. You are not interested in them and you do not want them to have a window into your life. If there has been a problem between you, then this is a definite step away from. A deliberate step away.

As Christ-followers, are we allowed to do that? I mean go to the extreme end of the argument where someone is your actual ENEMY (not just someone you dislike or are annoyed or offended by) and Jesus says we absolutely, without question, must LOVE them.

Think about that for a second. People who have crossed you, someone you once claimed to cherish, are you willing to actually say, “You are now my ENEMY?” Jesus says, even if they are that — your actual adversary, enemy — you must still engage with that person as modeled by Jesus Himself in Scripture. So anything in between applies as well.

Scripture keeps pulling us towards, towards, towards people: back to the table. So the unfriend button on Facebook, for a Christ-follower, should be a sobering thing to stare at.

When is it OK to unfriend? When they have offended you? When you have had to forgive them 7 times for offending you? Seventy times seven times?

The Urban Dictionary actually had a great definition (among the many not-so-great definitions) for unfriending: “a coward’s way of conflict management in the world of social networking; to disassociate from someone or something without attempt to resolve conflict or give notice.”

— Teresa Klassen

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7 responses

2 05 2011
Melanie

What a great post….I have been struggling with the “unfriending” thing so much, since I was unfriended a few times. It hurts, even if it’s via the web and not face to face….still feels like a dagger through your heart. Now is it right to have “blocked” them…..I was so angry….is that right?

3 05 2011
Teresa Klassen

I know what you mean. I guess anything you do in anger can lead you to do something “wrong.” I like how John Piper put it (I just read this). When Jesus said, “first remove the log in your own eye” — he wasn’t saying that our friends don’t have the need to change something as well, he was just saying that if you first look at yourself and deal with whatever is wrong in you, then you can “surgically” remove the speck in their eye. I loved that word surgically because it implies compassion, care, preciseness, delicacy. Unfriending is (in many cases) cruel; so whatever we do in return, we need to make sure we are not playing “tit for tat” and doing the same thing. If we respond in anger, how are we better than they? It is throwing stones. It is carrying an offense (if you want to read my blog on offense, I reflected on every chapter of an excellent book on the topic…”The bait of satan” — it really helped me)
Having said that…because social media keeps you very present in people’s portrayals of their shiny lives, that isn’t natural either, especially when you have had a run in. It is emotionally draining to me to see every detail of some people’s lives played out on facebook when I have been hurting. In the real world, when you are working through the loss of a friendship, you work through the bitterness of it and try to come to peace with that person and that event. You don’t have to hear on an hourly basis how happy and free and social they are. But on facebook, that is what happens and it actually keeps putting you in a place of sadness. So I have “hidden” some people’s posts so that I can still be mindful of them but with enough “quietness” to get my head straight about them. Until I can find my place and hear what Jesus is saying to me about them and how I should feel about them…does that make sense?

5 05 2011
It's My Thoughts

is jesus on facebook? 😛

5 05 2011
teresaklassen

Kind of an advanced version of it, since Psalm 139 says He knows our location, where we are at all times, He understands our thoughts even from a distance, He regularly surfs through the events of our life and even knows what we are going to say before we say it.

12 11 2011
Paschal O. Otieno

Jesus knows our exact location. He must not be on facebook to locate and connect with us.

2 01 2012
Vincere

What if the only reason you accepted her friend request was because she was the friend of a friend, and you didn’t want to hurt her feelings by saying no?
What if, after reading self-centered post after self-centered post, and watching her make one bad decision after another, and whining a lot, you realize that your instincts were right – you should have never accepted that friend request. So you unfriend her.
What if, after months of not noticing she’d been unfriended, she finally noticed and now wanted to know why?
What if you try to explain that you’re just trying to keep in touch with people you know really well, among other excuses, all the while trying really hard never to say, “Well, I think you’re really shallow and very stupid and will never learn from your mistakes and I don’t want to have anything to do with you.” I try my best to remain polite and respectful, not brutally honest.
What if she, in turn, goes off on you and cusses you and takes it upon herself to be as rude and hateful as she possibly can? (all the while basically reinforcing my decision to unfriend this person).
What if you never respond, because you recognize that’s there’s nothing you can do. beyond friending her again, and you’re certainly not going to do that.
Months pass. She’s visiting a mutual friend’s house. You stop by. She retreats to the bedroom and refuses to come out until you leave. She doesn’t care that the two of you were never friends to begin with, nor does she care about the extremely awkward situation she’s just put her hostess in. She is, in fact, further reinforcing the decision to unfriend her with her completely selfish and petty behavior (and keep in mind, this is a 40-something year old woman we’re talking here, not a teenager).

What if engaging the person in a logical discussion is out of the question? What if you had to deal with this mess? I’d love to talk it out, mainly for the sake of our mutual friend who should’ve never been put in that position, but this silly woman won’t even be in the same room with me, and all because I unfriended her months ago. Avoiding conflict? Maybe, but sometimes issues cannot be talked out because people are too crazy, selfish, and/or egotistical to engage in a fruitful dialogue. Sometimes the person IS the issue. How do you resolve that?

2 01 2012
teresaklassen

Wow, that’s messy. There isn’t really a once-size-fits all answer when it comes to this stuff. I go with “as far as it is up to you, be at peace with all people” approach, all the while knowing that sometimes one’s efforts will never, ever be enough when it comes to certain individuals because of their own brokenness. And I guess that is it, sometimes you bear the brunt of someone else’s brokenness. Sometimes you can’t actually resolve the conflict, even though you are willing to. If you felt you actually had to unfriend her (versus simply hiding her posts so you aren’t always faced with the drama) I wonder what would have happened if, before you unfriended, if you would have just sent a courteous note like, “Hey, doing some spring cleaning on my Facebook; I realize I have a lot of people on here that I don’t actually know that well. Since our paths don’t really cross that much, and I’m not really in your world, I hope you won’t take this personally, but I am taking you off my list. I wish you well…”. She might have still gotten mad, but at least you gave her a fair and kind warning. But that is water under the bridge, would it work to send a message through to her, carefully so that there won’t be further room for misunderstanding, like: “Hey, I realize my unfriending you from my Facebook has troubled and hurt you. I would like you to know that this was never my intention. I just realized, looking at my facebook, that there were people I didn’t know well and thought I would do some Spring Cleaning to pare down my list to people I am a little more connected to and understand where they are coming from when they post. I am sorry if this caused an offense, this truly was not my intention and didn’t think it would really matter to you since we are not really in each other’s lives. Anyway, hope you will accept my apology and we can just move on from this.”….?

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