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Are internet friends genuine?

Nothing separates genuine friendships Graphic: Susan Joyner-Stumpf

Friends or not?

To be sure, the topic of friendship has been discussed with some detail in recent years due to the popularity of social networking.

Recently on one of the more prominent social networking sights, the topic seems to have gained new life and as such, it seems appropriate to once again visit this entire topic.

One important fact of life as any counselor, sociologist or psychologist will tell you is, people have a need for personal interaction and friendships.

The need for friendship starts almost from birth with children interacting with others in nurseries and day care and especially when they start school for the first time or begin a new school year. When one child goes up to the other for the first time and begins exchanging names, comparing clothes and even facial features the attempt at friendship begins.

Somewhere along the way however, people can lose sight of their need for friends and friendship, they become isolated and draw into themselves.

The need for human interaction is as necessary as breathing. We need one another.

Large corporations and Churches have learned long ago that principle well enough to introduce the concept of “small groups”. These are groups small enough that allow and attract people specifically for making better human interaction.

Businesses do this for think tank purposes and most evangelical churches in America now have some form of ‘small group’ concept in their church ministry for better personal interaction.

The Bible refers to friends in abundance. King Solomon tells us in the book of Proverbs that a ‘friend loves at all times’, this is probably the most popular verse on friendship in the Bible. Real friendships are able to look past their disagreements and focus on the positives of life.

There is also other references to friendship in the Bible such as David and Jonathon, Ruth and Boaz, Elijah and Eli, Priscilla, Aquila and the Apostle Paul and many more.

And of course, the greatest friend of all is Jesus. The Bible reminds us that Jesus called us His friends.

One reason social networking has become so popular is because people want friends. Christians have even gotten ‘Christian specific’ with our own social networking alternatives of which their are now several because we all need friends.

The whole concept of “internet friends” or “social networking friends” being real and genuine has become a matter of discussion and controversy within the psychology and counseling community particular.

In question is, “Can someone you might have never seen (other than a profile photo) become a real and genuine friend?” Most mental health professionals trend towards the negative on this and say unless you’ve met the person prior to social networking they probably are no more than an acquaintance at best and possibly a stalker or inquisitive hacker waiting to strike and take advantage.

There is an old saying which pastors and mental health workers have known for years, “FAMILIARITY breeds both conflict and contempt.” With regard to “Social networking friends”, be very careful in how much you share with each other about each other; especially in public forums. Many people have been destroyed on social networks with the best of intentions. So as Jesus says, “Love one another…” but indeed, be cautious because evil is always lurking.

That said, many of us remember making “pen pals” in school. We communicated via traditional postal mail writing back and forth with other “unknown” people from usually another country and we might not even have a picture. We felt like we had genuine friends even though we might never actually meet them.

For many, having a “pen pal” was their first real inter-personal relationship and it was a good thing as is “social networking” of today.

Psychology teaches us that human inter-action or ‘friendship’ is important and recent articles in psychology periodicals emphasize such.

One of the easiest ways to make real flesh and blood friends is to step back from the computer. Go to a gym, get involved with a softball team or bowling league or attend a local church where you can probably do it all . Get involved in one of the many small groups or attend local church services or social events.

Most friendships are good including those that social networking has brought about. Most of us can be thankful of all of the new friends from across the globe we have been able to make because of computers and social networking.

Personally, this writer has met a few people through “social networking” who have and will remain genuine and lifelong friends. These are some of the finest people ever encountered and definitely genuine friends.

But nothing is better than the firm grasp of a hand, a warm hug or even a ‘butterfly’ kiss on the cheek and hearing those wonderful words, ‘I’m so glad you are my friend’. This writer looks with anticipation when this is an experience shared with several new found “social network friends”.

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