Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Unfriending Hits Home

Many of us have heard by now that yesterday the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) announced its word of the year-- “unfriend.” At first I thought “how modern!” of the OED to choose a word associated with social networking.

Then I heard on NPR that “unfriend” actually dates back to the 17th century and meant about the same thing it does now, although it is currently exercised in previously unthinkable and creative ways on Facebook and elsewhere. No longer is an actual gauntlet or epee required to “unfriend.”

So hearing this, it could not have been more timely to see a patient in my office yesterday afternoon who was describing the drama of her last year and a half as she emerged from a painful middle school experience and has begun to settle nicely into high school. In the process, however, she has had to “unfriend” a MeanGirlWannabee or two. Liberating herself from the toxic influences of these personalities was not a negative move at all. Instead, I supported her decision to be herself and to accept that not everyone is “friend” material. The dewy eyes that I saw as we talked were a clear indicator of the intensity and anguish involved in the decision and process of extricating herself from an old group. Not to mention the scary steps of judging, navigating and cultivating a new set of companions moving forward.

There may be pain in severing relationships whether that happens electronically or through face to face negotiation. Having language to describe what happens in the new world of e-communication—apparently “sexting” was a runner-up for Word of the Year—will go a long way to encouraging dialogue as we all grow and evolve with the many new inventions quite literally at our fingertips.

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