Friends before Facebook

Think back about how many fights you have seen on social media. If your experience is anything like mine, you have probably lost scores of friends over various issues. Today I was reminded how easily this could happen when a Facebook “discussion” started with an old friend—we’ve been friends for 15 years, not just on social media. I highly respect this person and value our friendship.

I won’t go into the argument itself because it was truly trivial. I soon pulled out of it because I value our friendship. I don’t care who is right or wrong if it means losing my friend. Now, if he insisted I take his side, that would be different. But the fact that we disagree is not a friendship-breaker. Today, we have forgotten that (1) we can be friends even if we disagree, and (2) we need friends more than we need to win arguments.

How many times have you won an argument on Facebook? I don’t mean from your perspective. What I mean is, “When did you last have someone on Facebook say, ‘You are right, and I am wrong, so I will now change my (life, vote, party, conduct, beliefs).’?” Facebook is a perfect platform for giving us just enough space to discover disagreement, but not enough to discuss the issues and build consensus. That takes too much time and robust back-and-forth conversation. Have you ever tried to follow a threaded discussion where two people debated complex issues? Eventually, it breaks down. And given the emotional vagueness of text, there are just too many ways for these conversations to degenerate.

So why do I bring this up? I want to remind you that it is acceptable to value friendship over winning the debate. Believe me, as one who loves to debate, this is hard for me to live out. I will happily go for hours discussing issues I value—and doing so heatedly. But I find this is just not possible on Facebook. At least not doing it right. During such discussions, I want to see the person face to face, sit comfortably across from each other, and share a meal. I also only do this with those who agree that we remain friends, whatever the outcome of the discussion. If the other person cannot do that, then it is just not worth it to debate with them.

But how can I say that friendship is more important than proving my point? I say it because you are very unlikely to convince someone through Facebook arguments—of anything. But you are more likely to bring a friend over to your way of thinking if the relationship is shown to matter more than being right. The old saying that “people don’t care what you know until they know you care” is more important today than ever. And the assumption for too long has been that disagreement is proof of not caring. It’s time we display to the world that one can put a relationship above being right.

Let’s go back to being neighbors and friends. Let’s start loving more than arguing; cherishing more than debating. Let us be people who stand for the truth but still stand by our friends.