This past week a number of events seem to converge into a single message for me. Early in the week I hosted a video chat with a group of old friends. We came to learn that every one of our families have been touched by COVID-19. Fortunately with no fatalities. My daughter (a nurse) continues her recovery from the struggles of a COVID infection that occurred nearly a month ago. A younger (very athletic) friend had gone silent after indicating that he had become infected. I learned that he had landed in the ICU, struggling for his every breath. He very nearly fell over “the edge“. Thankfully, he is now on the road to recovery and has been transferred to a regular ward. One of his observations was the extreme stress carried upon the shoulders of the hospital staff. The hospital is over capacity with no end in sight.

Also this week I received communications from folks who persistently deny that COVID-19 is real. People who maintain a belief in some grand international conspiracy. I had enough, and on my Facebook account I “unfriended“ them. In my pique I shared these things with my Facebook community without identifying those who had been “unfriended“. I also added, “…did I miss anybody?“. My daughters applauded my actions, understanding how very reluctant I have been over the years to exercise the “unfriend” button. A couple of people took umbrage with my post and asked that they be “unfriended“ as well. Still others found sadness in these personal interactions. For reasons I will explain, I am not one of them.

I originally resisted joining Facebook. However, I found that I could learn more of the day-to-day events in my children and grandchildren’s lives through Facebook than I could in a telephone call or a discussion over coffee. I joined. Soon I had a fairly large Facebook community that showed interest in our family and our travels. In turn I have enjoyed glimpses into the lives of my friends as shared on FB.

Many of my dearest friendships predate Facebook. Many friends do not participate in Social Media. I do not measure friendship by one’s presence or absence in my Facebook community. Facebook is merely a convenient forum for sharing.

I received some private expressions of regret from others at what had transpired between “friends”. I have come to believe that while social media provides a convenient forum for social exchange there is a darker side. We have come to take too seriously being a “friend“ or an “unfriend“ on social media.

Friends often have disparate views in matters of politics, religion, and socioeconomics that do not threaten friendship. However, in the realm of social media those distinctions, especially when extreme, may rendered it inappropriate for there to be participation in one another’s social media communities. We choose who we invite to Thanksgiving dinner. We choose who attends graduations, weddings, and birthday celebrations. We choose who is on our Holiday card list. Most of the time no offense is taken by those who are omitted.

Friendships may be a reflection of our work, our neighborhoods, where we worship, together with when and where we went to school. Social media does not and should not determine our relationships. I merely invite you to consider your own view of Social Media friendship and “unfriendship“.

Peace to Everyone. Please stay Safe, Happy, and most of all Healthy in this Holiday Season. Pete

PS. Speaking of Holiday Cards: Disaster has again befalling me in my best efforts to send out cards! After handwriting and addressing over 500 cards… even including a $10 bill in each one to make up for the past years’ omissions, I placed the cards in the oven. I had thought it would be a harmless way to sterilize them and avoid any risk of virus transmission.

Unfortunately, I became distracted by doing the laundry, washing the dishes, scrubbing the floors and washing the windows. In my neglect the cards and their contents perished.
Oh well, perhaps better luck next year. Pete

25 thoughts on “Friends and “Unfriends“

  1. Dear Peter,

    I now read your essays via email since disconnecting from social media in June of 2020.

    Everything you write here I agree with. Social media exacerbates despair, it seems, by the telling and retelling of the essential lie discovered through 12-step recovery–that the universe and all its machinations are egocentric. That there is no abstract greater than ourselves to serve or by which to be inspired, instructed and cared for.

    A long-time friend of mine is a resident physician at a local hospital and at long last contracted the virus and is now doing telehealth appointments from home and we spoke at length about the individual vs. universal in terms of hosts to the virus and the virus itself. We can lead our individual lives UNTIL the UNIVERSAL comes knocking. It would be healthier and saner, according to English writer and travel essayist and walker and cyclist Will Self, to square with death to live more meaningfully in 2021.

    Nuanced conversation, inspired wisdom and fun die at the hands of social media.

    Thank you again for reaching out across the void to say hello and share your stories.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and Yours.


  2. Juliana Baliva says:

    Thanks so much for saying what we feel. I have unfollowed several friends and unfriended a few. Just don’t need that in our lives. Prayers for your daughter and friend’s recovery. Prayers for all the family to be safe and healthy. Merry Christmas!

    • Thank you Julie. It seems these days the disinformation has become more malignant and dangerous. Let’s pray that 2021 brings more positive times to all. Merry Christmas and a Happier New Year to you and Dom.

  3. I no longer have use for people who traffic in conspiracy theories and blatant lies. Just say that you are a racist and that you cannot imagine living in a country with African-Americans and Hispanics (Asians and Jews to be added in the near future). You don’t want to have a reasonable conversation, you don’t accept science. You reject civility and believe that might makes right and you will fight anyone who disagrees with you.

    You just need to go away.

  4. Well said Pete! I originally joined FB to see my grandchildren’s photos and activities. I really enjoy connecting with extended family and friends. I refuse to post any information that can be considered negative. Life is full of challenges and far be it for me to enhance any negative thoughts. I suppose this line of thinking is considered “old school “. But I will wear that proudly.

    ps. I could use an extra $10. Please fax it to me also:-)

    • Ron, what you call “old school” is good school. If all held to the standards that you express it would indeed be SOCIAL Media. By the way, I emailed your 10 bucks because I didn’t know that you had a fax machine.

  5. Jennifer Witte says:

    Thank you, Papa Pete. I have an echocardiogram today to assess the damage Covid has done to my heart. I was infected in October and it was hell. I’m 35 and an avid cyclist, as you know. Covid is very real and having lifelong impacts on the young and healthy, this is not just a sickness for those who are older or with pre-existing conditions. I have no previous issues with my heart, in fact, as a distance athlete my heart wasn’t on my list of concerns when I was first infected. I am thinking of Alexis at this time, too and am so sad to hear she is dealing with this. Love to you all. To deny Covid is “real” is to deeply disrespect those who are doing all they can to just get back to normal, their opinions should not be tolerated. Cheers to that “unfriend” button. But be willing to “friend” again should they contract the illness, have a change in perspective and need some support.

    • Dear Jenni, I am so sorry that this hit you!! Thank you for sharing and yes, “unfriending” does not mean that we abandon empathy or our humanity. I wish you a complete recovery and send our love to you, Liam, and Olive.

  6. Peter – you always make me think. I just don’t have the guts to pull the plug completely. Though many people send me friend requests, my watermark is, if you don’t speak to me in person, you don’t get to run your fingers through my pictures/life. “T”‘s post resonated with me – on so many levels. I envy T getting off social media as I, like Peter use it as a platform to follow those I love. Yet there are those that irk me as well. Yes – the lie I tell myself – which turns into the lie I tell everyone else. I got off the elevator years ago and started taking the steps. Life is Good! (bummer about those cards/$10 bills eh?)

    • Liz, it is always good to hear from you! Thinking is one infection we should all do our best to spread liberally!
      Yeah, I faxed and emailed the last two $10 bills that I had to Ken and Ron. However, I can run a one dollar bill through my copy machine 10 times if you’d like. Merry Christmas to you and Frank!

      • Merry Christmas to you and Christine my friend. All the best to your family as well. I for one will be celebrating New Years Eve on January 20th – when I can – hopefully breathe a sigh of relief from some of this craziness. Peace Brudda!!

  7. Never joined Facebook, doubt if I ever will. Pretty sure I don’t miss it. I read a lot about the misinformation that social media spreads and the division it increases in our society. As you and I have spoken about recently, people are more focused on what we disagree on than the many things we do agree. The people you unfriended will go on, just as you will without them. Worse is the friends that break off direct contact with us because of a difference of opinion or political stance. Years of shared experiences broken over a single belief, when so many similarities are still available to enjoy and relish. Our recent video group chat with friends going back over 40 years was amazing. Catching up while seeing the faces of old friends, reacting with laughter and heart felt feelings in real time. There’s others that could join our next meeting, I hope they join us.

    Thanx for your thoughts, speak to you soon.

  8. Once again, a thought provoking message from your heart! I joined FB as a connection to the “kids” I grew up with. It has allowed us to make improptu lunch dates if we find ourselves in the same community. I enjoy keeping that connection alive particularly because we are a small group with knowledge and understanding of one another that is unique among the diverse friendships I treasure. Along the way, my FB friend list has grown, and I too have chosen to no longer see some of the posts. Politics and now Covid are primarily how I have discovered that my values and those of the “other” are out of synch. It is a gift (for me) to be in this stage of life, where I am no longer feeling duty bound by career /work necessity to spend time with people or groups that drain my spirit! Wishing you and yours good health and happiness, may 2021 give us opportunities to connect in-person!

    • Thank you so much Susan. I like your phrase “that drain my spirit“. It’s a more polite way of saying what could otherwise be captured in a four letter word. I too look forward with optimism to 2021. Wishing you health, safety, and happiness. Pete

  9. Karen Aultman says:

    While I’m pretty sure I was not on the $10 mailing list, if there is any extra, let me know!
    In all seriousness, I do not engage with people that exude negativity. They try to suck the life out of me. Those that want to engage in conspiracy are existing in some science future world. We grew up with the polio reality. Years of worry.. iron lungs…paralysis….waiting for a solution…wondering who was next… would they walk again….would they survive. I knew that we would have to hunker down and be cautious and patient. Two qualities that are failing many now. Anyway, the lack of immediate social contact has somehow given folks the sense that there is no natural social repercussions for comments and actions. I am on FB to share my journey and see my family and friends and occasionally have a good laugh. SOCIALIZE. Like you do over a cup of coffee…or a good bourbon. I think that’s what the creators had in mind…they were trying to find a date, right?

    • Karen, I so agree… particularly about the coffee and bourbon! I imagine the conspiracy theories have existed since humans first began walking on two legs. However, there has never been the social media forum to give them such a loud voice. Unfriending is my small contribution to turning down their volume. Thank you for reading and for your comments. Pete

  10. Marilyn Holte says:

    Your message today was welcomed by me. I, too, have unfollowed and unfriended people on Facebook during COVID. I just sent you a friend request there. If you scroll down, you will see two watercolors I painted with the following message on October 5. I may have been unfriended after the posting!

    “COVID Eyes”
    My self portrait on the right was going to be my statement about COVID and what it has meant to me. The black eye is obvious. Along with most of the world, I feel that the handling of COVID in the United States has given us a huge black eye.
    As I painted these two watercolors, I realized that the first painting has more meaning. For one thing, it is unfinished, just as we are not through with COVID and we may never be until we experience its long term effects. But the greater significance of the painting is how COVID has opened my eyes. My friends, acquaintances, neighbors and strangers surprised and saddened me with how they handled the situation. People I perceived as kind became mean and bitter. People I thought were compassionate turned against each other. People I envisioned as smart acted ignorant. And people I saw as caring about their neighbors as much as about themselves became selfish. Hatred is everywhere. We have let this Corona Virus control our emotions and and actions even if it has not entered our bodies. It has brought out the worst in us. My eyes are wide open.

    • Marilyn, thank you and what a wonderful visual metaphor for what has happened to us this year. Let’s hold hope for a better 2021 and civility among us!
      BTW, I will be accepting your friend request. You were never unfriended by me. Pete

  11. Roberto del Pino Guzmán says:

    Dear Peter, I joined FB when I though it was a very good idea for keeping in touch with family and friends. Unfortunately lots of good ideas are misused and taken over by reckless use and others.
    Now to find my friends and family, I have to fight my way trough advertising and requests to friendships from people I don’t even know.
    Anyway I do hope you and yours are well and safe and keep pressing that button!
    Un abrazo Roberto

    • Hi Roberto! I vividly recall the first day that I met you (with John) while walking across Spain, and the last day that I saw you in person when you entered the restaurant in Santiago where you were storing your bags prior to flying back to England. Each was a “chance” meeting, however for me evidence that “chance” is not random or rudderless. Christine and I found ourselves drawn to you and others we met, richer for what we shared on the Camino. FB has allowed us to cling to those friendships but you are correct, the advertising, vitriol, and random “stuff” that has grown in that forum has diluted the “good”.
      7 years ago I told Christine that I found a strong sense of brotherhood with you and I feel it to this day. Our paths may never again cross in person but I want you to know that you made a lasting impression on us. Peace my friend and may you and those you hold dear remain safe, happy, and healthy. Pete

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