Sunday, March 22, 2009

Note to self

It may not be a good idea to link from a post here to a blogger update. The link gets listed below the update and attracts far more strangers wandering through than usual. Site traffic is up. A bunch of people who don't know me and aren't interested in knowing me now know what I think about linking my blog to my Facebook account.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

As iron sharpens iron ...

Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another - Proverbs 27:17 (NRSV)

I have mentioned in recent posts some troubling things said to me about myself by friends. It might occur to someone that it's time to find new friends. And the truth is that some of my friendships are more challenging than others.

Some people are easy to get along with. They don't question my motives. If they don't understand what I say, they ask for clarification. They give me the benefit of the doubt. There are virtually no harsh words between us.

With other people, even my closest friends, I have occasional clashes. Something is taken the wrong way and brings a defensive response. Or I am labeled as selfish or insensitive. Or my friend speaks frankly about an annoying trait.

So why hang out with people who don't even like me part of the time? The verse from the Book of Proverbs at the top of this post might shed some light on this. Sometimes it takes sparks to sharpen a metal tool, honing it to a sharp edge.

If the people around me spoke well of me all the time, how would I become aware of character flaws? How would I work on my ability to handle criticism without falling apart emotionally? Who would challenge my thinking?

I like the comfortable times with comfortable friends. I also value friendships that have seen hard times and survived. Our friendship has been tested by the winds of adversity and we have chosen to hold on to it because the value we find in it outweighs the pain of the occasional conflicts between us.

A few years ago, some people walked out of my life by walking away from the church that provides most of my social life. I did an inventory around that time and realized that, with their departure, I was down to five people with whom I had occasional conflict, that I was getting along quite well with everyone else in my life. (The fact that the conflict prompting the departure of those people had absolutely nothing to do with me was encouraging -- apparently, I wasn't the only one with whom they had conflict.) A couple of years later, two more of those people walked away leaving me with just three friends with whom sparks sometimes fly, three very good friends whom I love. They make my life richer and challenge me in ways that are good for me. I am blessed.

Wounds from a friend can be trusted ... -Proverbs 27:6a (NIV)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Invisible People

Classic literature has given us two books entitled The Invisible Man. From the pen of H. G. Wells comes the story of a man who discovers the path to true invisibility. In contrast, the main character in Ralph Ellison's book is quite visible -- people just don't see him.

A more recent addition on the subject of invisibility is Neal Shusterman's book for young adults The Schwa was Here. It is a humorous-yet-sad story of an 8th-grade boy who blends in so completely with his surroundings that people don't see him. The narrator of the story befriends him and relates the challenges and opportunities this feature provides.

I have felt invisible many times in my life. I even experimented once in high school to see how invisible I truly was. On the evening of a "Youth for Christ" meeting/party, I determined to speak to no one unless that person either spoke to me first or looked directly at me in a way that invited me to say something. The only person who came close to providing that minimal level of invitation was the mother of the host student. She didn't know me, but greeted everyone at the door, including me. The only words I spoke all evening were a response to her greeting and a word of thanks as I exited. The rest of the evening, I sat quietly in the shadows, and not one person appeared to notice I was there.

My own experience with invisibility is partly what motivates me to be deliberate in my effort to see people. It can be hard work. People move in and out of my line of vision. Sometimes I notice them; sometimes I don't. There are various factors that contribute to a person's invisibility to me. Perhaps the hardest to see are quiet, ordinary children whom I don't know in a group that includes more flamboyant personalities. Or maybe it's the people who appear to be so far outside my usual social circle that interaction with them doesn't strike me as worth the effort.

What has me pondering the idea of invisibility, however, is not the invisible child or the invisible stranger on whom I slap a label, but invisible friends. There are people in my life, people whom I see frequently and know relatively well, whose presence somehow doesn't stir up enough brain cells for me to remember that I have crossed paths with them. I can seldom remember if they were in this place or that. Was he part of that group? Was she in her usual place at church this week? Did I see him at a store sometime? Have I seen her in the library lately?

Working at seeing people prompts me to sort out those quiet children and learn their names. It prompts me to treat people as potential friends, even if I detect nothing about them that makes me think we have enough in common to sustain even a casual friendship. I keep working at seeing the invisible people. And generally, once I get to know someone, they are no longer invisible to me. Except a few, who continue to blend into the woodwork no matter how much effort I make.

I wonder ... Does invisibility go with the person, as in the books I mentioned? Are my invisible friends surprised when someone sees them? Or is their invisibility to me a flaw in my own vision? Maybe it's a little of both.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Blogger and Facebook

I see that I can have my blog automatically post as a note on Facebook. (Click here if you want to know how.) On the face of it, this seems like a nice feature. But it didn't take long to figure out that I'm not going to do it.

For more than a decade, I have moved between two different worlds. First, there is my "real life" world. The people who populate this world have faces and voices and talk not only to me but to each other when I'm not around. They know me by what I say, by my body language, by what I look like, by what others think about me. They hear my voice and enter my life with a physical presence. Few of them focus much attention on me specifically. Few of them care what I think about either Blogger or Facebook.

My other world is an online world. In this world, there are no voices, only typed words on a page. I type posts such as this and people show up to read them. Many are strangers coming in off the search engines. Others, I know only from the internet. Only a few are part of my "real life" world.

Facebook is a place where my two worlds intersect. It's actually a place where many worlds intersect for many people. It specializes in one-liners. "Marsha is typing a blog post." Does someone trying to keep up with 100 friends really want to know more than that? If they do, it's not hard to find this blog.

I have often told people that the key to survival in a small town is to be so boring that no one cares to talk about you. "Marsha who? Who's that and why would I care what she did? Don't you have anything better than that to tell me?" I find blogging to fit into that same pattern. Most people don't care to read my ponderings. Even though this blog is easily picked up by the search engines, I'm counting on the fact that only people who are truly interested in reading it because they have some level of appreciation for what I write will bother to come by more than once. Thus, I can share things here that I wouldn't necessarily share with everyone I know. Force-feeding these posts to my Facebook friends, whether from "real life" or from other internet settings, seems way too "in your face" for me. It's a neat concept that I can see would work for other people and I hope my mindset doesn't discourage you if you're interested in doing it, but I myself am not ready to invite that level of exposure.

So if you're here from a search engine, you're just getting in on some thoughts. If you're a regular visitor, thanks for coming by. I appreciate your interest.