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I'd Rather Diverse Facebook Friends Than a Clique

07/24/2015 12:05 EDT | Updated 07/24/2016 05:59 EDT
Tom Nulens via Getty Images

Every so often, articles and blog pieces show up in my Facebook feed, encouraging me to prune my friend list and get rid of those pesky less-than-perfect people. Apparently people like the "Humble Bragger" should be dropped. Because, really, aren't the regular braggers bad enough? Then there are the friends who post a lot of pet pictures/kid pictures/memes. Delete, delete, delete -- who wants to see cute puppies and babies or inspirational messages in their feeds? Seriously, keep it grim, folks. What about the guy that posts selfies at the gym? Buh-bye, big guy. We don't need your buff body reminding us of our own pasty pudginess, thanks.

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It worries me that we are being encouraged to groom our friend lists into small cliques full of yes-people. Because here's the thing: people are quirky and unique. Sometimes that quirkiness crosses the line or is just downright annoying. I get that. But the differentness of the people around us challenges us with new perspectives and helps us grow.

In Kindergarten, we were taught socialization skills to help us deal with different types of people and their idiosyncrasies. In real life, we deal with less-than-perfect people on a daily basis. We might have a Cousin Eddie in our extended family. Or we might have a boss like The Office's Michael Scott. One of your friends might be bestie material except for the fact that he frequently has garlic breath. And there's a good chance you've been at a party at least once where someone said something inappropriate or downright offensive. That's life. Relationships of any depth are often messy and complicated, and we walk fine lines to manage them. Expecting people in our real lives to only say and do those things we enjoy, lest we kick them to the curb, just would not fly.

For some reason, though, we treat people and relationships differently on Facebook. Both become more expendable. We expect more of people and give up on them more easily. Perhaps part of the problem is that the definition of "friend" has become blurred thanks to social media. In real life, we choose friends who mirror our social identity -- in other words, like attracts like. Often we bond over shared interests (musical tastes or craft beer) or shared activities (rec sports leagues or book clubs). We nourish that friendship by spending time together. But our Facebook friend lists - like life - often include people who are not technically friends: people who are not similar to us, and who we don't spend a lot of time with.

My approach to Facebook is a little different than most. I appreciate the quirkiness and the complexity of the people on my Facebook friend list. To be honest, if someone wildly gets on my nerves, I unsubscribe from their feed and/or restrict their access to my own posts. But, in general, I love the diversity of my feed. In fact, here are some Facebook Friend Types that other people hate on, but that bring me joy.

1. The Gamers

I am not kidding. The notifications notwithstanding, games are an awesome place to chat with like-minded people. I met Jo while playing Fairyland. We would water each other's gardens and give each other a heads' up as to when the albino parakeets (or whatever, it's been a few years) were supposed to be visiting. We recognized we were kindred spirits and friended each other outside of the game. I haven't played Fairyland in years, but I love keeping up with Jo through her posts. Rock on, Gamers!

2. The Pols and the Activists

Fortunately, I have several American friends on my list, and they spice up my feed very nicely with their Dem vs GOP debates. Look at the comments on any news story regarding the Confederate flag and things go off the rails pretty quickly. But watching people I know and respect debate issues calmly opens my mind and gives me the chance to think critically. The activists give me food for thought too. I have a friend who is passionate about how Mexican labourers are treated on corporate farms. It's enlightening to read the articles she posts and I appreciate her for doing so.

3. The Cheerleaders

A few years ago, I had a Facebook epiphany: People post stuff that is meaningful to them. They don't post random memes because they want to get everyone else's shorts in a knot. No, they post random memes because they want to connect with people who find the same kinds of things meaningful. Whenever something resonates with me a bit, I hit that "like" button. If it resonates a little higher on the scale, I'll comment. It saddens me when someone posts something they are super excited about and not one single person acknowledges it. How hard is it to spread a little joy, people? Yes, I am Facebook Friend Type #12 that the haters will encourage you to unfriend: "The Cheerleader."

4. The Grammar Slackers

I used to have a job with an academic journal, and one of my duties was proofreading. I know grammar. I also know that some people don't know grammar as well as I. So what? Please, for the love of all that is holy, stop shaming people who use grammar incorrectly. There are all kinds of reasons why someone might not reach your grammar standards -- they might have a learning disability; they might have had to drop out of school at a young age for various reasons; they might have limited dexterity; they might have learned English as a second language. Who cares? If they're posts are otherwise smart and relevant, just enjoy them and skip the shaming. (See what I did their?)

I understand the need to prune and to move on from failed or shallow relationships. But I encourage you to stay part of a diverse group of people, and let your mind and heart be challenged by them. Don't cocoon yourself. No (wo)man is an island. Not even on Facebook. Especially not on Facebook.

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