In the age of Facebook, it’s easy to have friends. With just the click of the mouse, we are “connected” and instantly have access to the musings, photographs and persona of the girl I met in a class, or the girl visiting from out of town. Yet, in an age when “friends” are so easy to come by, what happens to friendship?
A few weeks ago, I was sitting home alone, ostensibly working on a few things I had been putting off, but everyone once in a while I would check my Facebook page. My old high-school friend Jillian had posted that she was reading a particular book, and I commented that it was not a favorite of mine. I closed the page, went back to work and thought nothing more of it, and I probably wouldn’t have, until the phone rang just an hour later.
After a few moments of chatting, she confessed that she needed adviceIt was Jillian. Now just to be clear, Jillian and I have not spoken to each other in over five years. She had seen my comment on Facebook, found my phone number, and called me for a chat. The word “surprise” doesn’t even begin to describe my shock at receiving this call from the past. After a few moments of chatting, she confessed that she needed advice, and as she had always considered me a good ear in high school, she wondered if maybe I would hear out her dilemma.
Jillian is married now, with a wonderful husband and baby, and she is thinking of a career change. It’s a difficult decision for her, and she recognized she not only had herself to think of, but her family as well. Once I pushed aside my surprise that she would want to talk about any of this with me, I just listened, because I could tell that’s what Jillian needed, just someone to listen.
Ethics of Our Fathers (Pirkei Avot) tells us to “acquire a friend for yourself” (1:6). Why must we acquire a friend? In essence, the verse is telling us that we need a person in whom we can confide, but who can be honest with us. Think of your best friend; think of all of the good times and bad times you have shared. I am guessing that what makes you close to that person is not only your shared experiences, but that you feel that your friend knows you best and that you have an honest relationship with each other. Rabbi Abraham Twerski, in his book Visions of the Fathers, writes (p. 33) that “the only way to avoid the pitfall of distorted judgment is to enlist the help of an outside person who is not affected by our biases.”
I happened to be on Facebook at just the right timeMy old friend Jillian needed someone to listen to her and help her decide if she was doing the right thing. And I happened to be on Facebook at just the right time. Now I don’t know if I was much help to her, but I recognized immediately that her call was this verse from Ethics of Our Fathers calling out to me. I had a duty to at least listen to Jillian, and do my best to help her out. After all, we had once been very good friends, and it’s hard to see anyone going through a tough time.
After I hung up the phone, I spent a long time thinking about that call. I recognized the power of social media to connect us to others and provide an opening for friendship. I was grateful that I had this outlet to reach out to others. But it also made me more aware and careful about whom I was going to “friend” in the future. And I know that from now on, when I accept that request, it will be someone I really want to acquire for myself as a friend.
By Devorah AvrukinDevorah Avrukin is from San Jose, CA. When she isn’t chasing around her toddler, or writing at her computer, she can be found in her office at the Jewish Study Network.