Loving Each Other Better

Yesterday, on the front steps of a church in South Carolina, a man by the name of Trey Pennington committed suicide.  That day, he also wrote this tweet.

The thing that gets me is that this person, according to his website and the reports of many that met him on twitter, was really outgoing and social and made everyone around him feel better for having met him. This person, who had given so much to so many, in his moment of greatest need, ended up being and feeling completely alone.

Although there is an article that covers the idea very well and many blogs like this one that are wonderful tributes to the importance of this person to so many and being more aggressive in our efforts to reach each other, my mind is drawn back to one of the first things I wrote on this site about relationships and being online.

I don’t know the man personally, but that doesn’t matter: pain is pain and loss is loss and many people that I consider to be really cool people are very much hurt over this set of events. The thing that matters is that we be more mindful about the people we have in our spheres and avoid having them slip into the cracks. Friendship is, in fact, a commitment to an intentional relationship with another living being. This is also a moment to take note of not thinking more or less of online relationships than should be thought; I have online friends that I treasure greatly, but this is not and cannot be a substitution for actually meeting them face to face and having them talk to you about the things they’ll never write about on a social media platform.

“To my friend Trey Pennington, one of the worst things about social media is we can be surrounded by so many and still feel completely alone.”

— Jim O’Donell

Equally powerful of a statement is:

Maybe we should be focused less on making a lot of connections, and focused more on making a few real friends? I’m going to try to work on this, to identify people (including the three above) with whom I want to develop real friendships, and make a concerted effort to do so, even if it means answering fewer tweets and blog comments from a much larger group of casual connections.

We have to take at least some of these social media spawned relationships to the next level, otherwise what’s the point beyond generating clicks and newsletter subscribers?

You think you know someone, but you don’t. And that’s social media’s fault. But more so, our own.

— Jay Baer

This points to something seriously wrong with the system. The thing is, this isn’t limited to social media. Many of us have had friends in real life that have problems like this that go undetected for years of us seeing them and being in physical contact all the time. The problem isn’t social media; it’s just a tool. An extension, if you will. Of what? Ourselves.

I’m not saying that you should beat yourself up because this happened or if this has happened to you in a particular way before. I am saying that is that, with relationships on the whole becoming proportionately more shallow as we make it easy to make more of them en masse, that we all take a moment to make a firm commitment here and now to be more intentional about the relationships we walk into when we click these follow and like buttons.

We cannot do anything about people being alive or dying, but we can do something about people being and feeling alone in the world. That extra two minutes you take to be there for someone could be another 40 years of life for them.

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