(From my “A2W Aging to Wisdom” series, explorations of the joyful ways to go through life.)
Traditional Judaism advises couples to know each other for at least one full calendar year, going through all four seasons of life cycles and holidays, before marrying. This is wise counsel because we learn some of the most significant details about a person when we observe them in different situations over time. Information acquired this way is important to all our relationships and not with just our romantic partners. Time allows for insight into ourselves, giving us opportunities to consider and reevaluate what we admire or dislike about a person, their family, coworkers or friends. We may discover we really prefer having a different kind of relationship. We may learn that we desire a different type of person in our life, one who is more compatible or better suited to our needs, preferences and goals.
Just a few short years ago, this kind of personal information was mostly revealed face to face, in spaces that were physical, i.e. a living room, bedroom, café, airplane, an office. And the emerging revelatory information, whether it concerned ideology or behavior, tended to open like a flower, gradually but inevitably. But social and new media have radically changed all of that. How and what we divulge to each other clutters the public sphere online, exposing us more than ever before to the most delicate information about our potential friends, old friends, colleagues and loved ones.
Sadly, I am finding a growing percentage of this data creating unexpected tension points in some of my oldest friendships. I don’t know if it is because they changed or because I just didn’t know certain things about them, but in any case, the information that is new to me is contradicting some of my previously held beliefs and assumptions. And these are ideas about people I thought I knew really well. This growing awareness has made me take pause, as it seems I most likely need to reassess how I view some other people in my life who are less closely connected to me.
This is a lot of unexpected new work to do that frankly, I just wish I didn’t have to tackle right now. But I don’t feel I can put it off.
For a long time I viewed the dump of new information as being just too much information, TMI. But this year in particular — in part because of politics and in part because it seems a lot more people on social media think they are funnier and smarter than they actually are — I’ve had to coin a new category, one that includes things I wish I had never learned about them.
I call that category UTMI. U for unfortunate.
UTMI may be any comments, photos or shared links that appear out of the blue on my screen or it could take place in person or during a phone conversation. What differentiates the two categories is that with UTMI, I instantly feel the information is unwelcome. The person is usually unaware that they have just downloaded content into my heart and mind that does not comport with any of the other knowledge I possessed about them, and I feel certain they have no idea it has become my problem.
What do you do when you come across UTMI? Like when your good friend has political views that align with any of the other political parties but yours, and is using their social media site in ways that make you not only question their intelligence, but is showing a hideous and ignorant side of them that is also out of character with the gentle, kindly soul you once believed them to be? Do you just hit the “unfriend” button, the “hide” button, do you ignore it or do you use the information to open a conversation or debate? What about the photos they post to Instagram and Facebook, not exactly pornographic but still emphasizing how interested they are in their own sexuality or their club scene? Or any photo with captions or quotes — many with a political or religious agenda — that to anyone who gets their information from more than one source can see that this messaging cannot be true?
UTMI is creating a new normal, leading many of us to consider making changes in some relationships that we wished we didn’t have to make. Thus the unfortunate.
Before social media, many of these judgments and beliefs about our friends, relatives and colleagues, appeared as though we were living in an organic evolution. Different phases and challenges of life seemed to emerge naturally and helped to make us feel closer. But as we age and our friendships and professional relationships also grow long in the tooth, we may notice that some of the information coming to us via social or new media is edited or presented in a way that ends up creating more distance rather than intimacy.
I have not changed the way I share information, but this year I have changed the way I receive it. Like many of you, I have had to hide and/or block the info that is shared by certain people, and I have “unfriended” pals who I just no longer want to be associated with because they insist on drinking a kool-aid of ideology that scares the bejezus out of me. But more troubling has been the dear relationships I’ve cultivated over many years that are no longer reconcilable with my heart. It’s hard to walk away, or to create extra distance in a friendship or relationship that once was so important you couldn’t bear to not nurture it. These are not decisions one wants to make quickly or often. I know it’s our new normal, though.
My wise father warned me nearly thirty years ago that too much knowledge is a dangerous thing. I didn’t quite understand what he meant at the time but I sure do this year.
— Giselle M. Massi copyright July 2016