There was one person I dreaded seeing at my 25-year high school reunion. Ironically, a quarter century earlier he had been one of my close friends. With an intellectual sense of humor and easy-going personality, Collin* was a natural completion to the trio of friends that also included Tanya* (an opinionated bookworm) and me (a verbose aspiring journalist).
If Collin disagreed with me on my political views, I wasn’t aware of it. Though I wouldn’t have been surprised. In the conservative South, Tanya and I seemed to be the only kids in school who leaned toward liberal viewpoints.
“Are you a Democrat?” a fellow student asked after my second political editorial ran in the school newspaper.
“No!” I responded. “I’m an Independent. Please don’t label me again!” True, I was thinking for myself and hadn’t aligned with any particular party (I would be a few months too young to vote come election day), but my publicly expressed opinions were already starting to place me on the left side of the aisle.
Two decades later when Collin and I reunited on Facebook, I had become more sure of my political leanings—and Collin had become more verbose about his.
At first I was shocked. Certainly he must be misunderstanding the issues? Then I was hurt. Couldn’t he see how I would be harmed if he got his way politically? Eventually, I became angry. I couldn’t see a notification from him without my stomach tightening and my heart pounding. I let my anger affect my responses and said things I would regret.
Finally, I got smart and decided Facebook wasn’t the best place for debates. I sent Collin (and a few other “argumentative” friends) a message apologizing for my actions, promising not to post messages of disagreement, and asking them to do the same for me.
Peace had been made—sort of. But I felt that our friendship had been ruined. So I didn’t know how I would greet him at the reunion. A cool hello? Look the other way? A big fake smile followed by nothing to say?
I didn’t have to wonder for long. While we were waiting for our class picture to be taken, Collin approached me, not with any of the above reactions, but with a friendly hug. “I miss you,” he said.
“There are some things we agree on,” I offered weakly, glad to see the friendship appearing reparable. He quickly brought up one of those subjects that we were in agreement on.
This is good, I thought. As long as we stay on topics of mutual agreement, we can get along like old times.
But I was wrong. Later that afternoon, we had dived right into one of the subjects that had led to our most volatile Facebook conversations. But this conversation wasn’t anything like our online dialog. I could sense he was understanding my point of view, and I was starting to get a clearer picture of where he was coming from. He got excited about some of the information I shared, and he shared some ideas that inspired me.
I wasn’t shocked, or hurt, or angry. I was energized.
What was the difference? All I can offer is that in-person conversations simply have more depth. When you can look into a person’s eyes, hear the tone in their voice, and see their body language, you get a better idea of what they are communicating. And it’s easier to remember that the person you are talking to isn’t just a storehouse for ideas and opinions. They are, indeed, human—full of history and heart and hope.
Back at home, I messaged Collin. “After this weekend, I’ve come to the conclusion that important things should be discussed in person,” I told him.
“Any time you need me to come down and hash things out, call me,” he responded.
Yup, that’s the Collin I know.
*names have been changed