We The People Project: Love Your Unfriends

working on a more perfect union, a #haiku:

what if we replaced
“unfriend me” with “let’s have lunch
and talk about life”?


As I fly to our nation’s capital this post-election Veteran’s Day, I’m thinking my family and friends who have served in the military, and about how I personally can serve this country I love, these United States of America.

Now: I’m gutted that Trump won, for reasons that I’m happy to go into when I’m not trying to make a different point. The biggest one, and the only one I’ll mention here is that his victory emboldens some people – and it only takes one – to commit acts of hatred and violence on their fellow Americans who they perceive as different, separate.

But. I am equally dismayed at seeing hateful words and actions come from my own side. In the past year or so, I have often seen the words “love wins” and “unfriend” come from the same person in one post. Confusing, because I have loved ones on both sides of this political divide that is prompting the unfriending epidemic. Confusing, because “unfriend” and love are incompatible.

Love is hard work. This is why love is a commandment in spiritual practices, not an option, for extra credit points if you’re flunking Communion or mindfulness. Love is the central mandate (sorry, Leviticus).

Back to these United States of America. United? We the people do not resemble that remark right now. The “E Pluribus Unum” (“out of many, one”) on our money is wishful thinking. Our nation has always been fractious, multi-faceted, full of people with different needs. The spirit of compromise that any long-term relationship requires has ebbed and flowed throughout that history, but for the past few years has been lost in all-or-nothing rhetoric tinged with hate.

The same amazing technology that brings the entire world into the palms of our hands also makes it possible for our worlds to be more insular than ever before. Smartphones, ATMs, GPS, self-checkout at the supermarket, delivery apps – make it possible for us to find our way around and go about our business without ever having to interact with someone we don’t already know. What’s more, our devices give us something to look at other than another human being. We avoid eye contact and – God forbid! – small talk in line, in the elevator, on the sidewalk or parking lot. It’s so much easier to check those very urgent texts, emails, and instagram-filled news feeds from people in our social circles. Even if those social circles are politically diverse, an algorithm curates the posts that appear, and if the echo chamber it creates isn’t sealed tightly enough, we can further curate the posts: unfollow, unfriend, block. I am guilty of unfollow, if not of unfriend.

When did “unfriend” become a word? The noun form of the word would be “enemy.” Meet Chester, my un-friend. Unfriend: v., to make an enemy of someone

Ok, if you must unfriend, draw boundaries, I get it. But if you’re also posting about how love wins, remember that the kind of love that excludes one’s enemies – the people you might wish to unfriend – only wins the consolation prize. Why does everything have to be so hard?

I wish it were easy.

I wish it were different.

I wish there were more empathy people of different backgrounds, beliefs, population densities. More rational communication, especially more listening to different points of view. Even points of view that make each other’s skin crawl. That takes courage. I wish there were more courage.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Which thought leads me to, “be the change you wish to see in the world:”

I wish I were different. Empathy. Courage. Willingness to listen.

I’m a musician. I started out taking “regular” piano lessons as a kid, ie, learning to play from sheet music. Since I’ve branched out into improvising and playing jazz and other styles, every mentor I’ve ever had has told me “listen more.” In any style of music, the silences are as important as the sounds, and playing in a band or any kind of ensemble depends on listening to the other players as much as you’re thinking about what you play yourself.

So, to that end, I’m committing to having a conversation a week – via phone or Skype, or in person, not on chat or text – with friends or acquaintances who are 1) people who look like me and have different lifestyles and political beliefs to my own and 2) people who don’t look like me and have similar lifestyles and political beliefs to my own.

Not with an agenda or intention of changing anyone’s mind; without a manifesto of my own except as above: courage, empathy for someone whose life is different from mine in some broad way, listening.

I have no idea what to expect. I hope I’ll find opportunities to learn and maybe even collaborate, as believe it or not creative people come in all political stripes. At least maybe I’ll get to catch up with some people I haven’t been in touch with for years except with social media tidbits.

Talk with me?