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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The enemy of my enemy is not my...err, I mean, the friend of my friend is not my...oh, that's not it either, well heck, just read the post already!

Life can get awfully complicated, and, to be perfectly candid about it, perhaps the most complicated issue of all is relationships. Relationships can be the source of our greatest joy, or our greatest pain.

As one prominent Presbyterian pastor once told me tongue in cheek, "The ministry would be fun if it weren't for the people."

The Internet is a microcosm of off line relationships. All of the same ingredients that are present in our off line relations are also present in our online relationships. It gets complicated, especially when we see all of near pathological symptoms being played out on the computer screen that we find in real-life, off-line relationships.

You have heard the old adage, "The enemy of my enemy is not my friend," or perhaps it's corollary, "The friend of my friend is not my friend." I will qualify both. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, and the friend of my friend is not necessarily my friend.

Of course we can keep going with this and say that the friend of my enemy is not necessarily my enemy, and so forth, the point being, relationships are very complicated. The person or persons who are adversaries of my enemy may be every bit as much to be suspicious of as my enemy. The fact that we oppose the same person or persons does not automatically make us allies.

In like manner, one who is a friend of a friend may not be a friend to me in spite of the fact that we have a mutual friend. 

I may like someone who is an enemy of my friend for reasons that have nothing to do with the relationship between them. This does not mean I agree with them about my friend or support them in what they say about him. It only means that I can have an amicable relationship with someone who does not like my friend, provided he does not make that friendship an issue.

Similarly, I may be wary of someone who is a friend of my friend for reasons that have nothing to do with my friend. He may like my friend very much but despise me. I may in turn consider myself an adversary to him in spite of his friendship with my friend.

Why do I make such a big deal of this? For several reasons, one of which is that sometimes we must take some time to think through the dynamics of online relationships, even off line relationships, in order to attempt to understand interpersonal relationships to a greater degree.

Why bother with this? Because understanding interpersonal relationships can often lead to better relationships. Self-examination is always prudent. We may see we are wrong. Or we may see that our suspicions are correct and take prudent action to distance ourselves from certain people. And better yet, often we can see that we can be friends with a person who has family members and good friends who stand against every principle I hold dear. I may decide that I can continue to be friends with such a person for various reasons. Maybe they go to the same church I go to and thus, I have decided that they are trustworthy and that I can get along with them amicably no matter what their family or friends think about me.

At the same time, I may decide that a good friend to my good friend is someone I cannot trust. The fact that my friend trusts him has nothing to do with our friendship. He may have had a very different experience with him, while I may have had a quite negative encounter with him. I don't have to be friends with all of my friend's friends.

As I said, it's complicated. But the very fact that it IS complicated may lead to more tolerance and understanding on our part.

And don't forget that these words are as much autobiographical as they are an exhortation to you.

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