Saskatchewan·First Person

How I befriended the 'unfriend' button and focused on the connections that mattered

We all have that friend whose posts make us shudder or keep scrolling. The pandemic has made it clear that's no longer an option for me, writes Tenille Lafontaine.

The beauty of social media is I can choose who I think are worth engaging with

Tenille Lafontaine poses with her two daughters. Life-altering events bring out the reality of who we are and who we want to keep in our lives, writes Lafontaine. (Submitted by Tenille Lafontaine)

This First Person piece was written by Tenille Lafontaine, a blogger in Regina. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

We all have that friend whose posts make us shudder or keep scrolling. Initially it was easy to turn away, because it didn't affect me personally.

I don't believe that's an option any longer, especially as those divisions become clearer and harder to ignore.

A recent poll for CBC Saskatchewan suggests that our society has become more polarized. In that same poll, 31.5 per cent of respondents said they have reduced contact with a friend or family member because of differing views or opinions.

I am one of them.

Even before 2020, I was aware of friends on my social media accounts — mostly Facebook because I'm of that "Facebook age" — who had some strong, questionable opinions. I can't say I didn't know or didn't see it. I saw a former high school classmate's racist comments on the Colten Boushie trial and ignored them. I saw a mommy-group friend posting about her anti-vaccine thoughts and shrugged because that was "the way she is." 

I'm ashamed to say I ignored these things and didn't address them head-on back then.

It wasn't until the start of the pandemic, when we were mostly at home and mostly online, that those opposing views started to stand out more. 

That guy with the racist commentary was louder, blaming the virus on incorrect sources and using slurs to describe immigrants. That old mommy-group friend was sharing misinformation from dubious "health and science" sources. 

More people joined in. People I had connected with in the past were sharing a side of themselves that didn't resonate with who I wanted to be today, or who I want my kids to look up to.

Descent into attacks

I was watching in real time as people I had once thought to be stable, reasonable members of my friend circle revealed themselves to be mean, vicious and even paranoid. I witnessed arguments online that went beyond enthusiastic debate into attacks, name-calling, and even threats. I consoled friends who were anxious over impending holiday celebrations, knowing that a relative who had "gone down the rabbit hole" of social media would be at the dinner table. 

When we began this pandemic, we connected over our failed attempts at sourdough starters and united over expanding our cooking beyond boxed macaroni. But the darker side of our isolation was learning more about the people we surround ourselves with, whether in person or online.

How had we moved so far — to a community ripped apart — when we needed solidarity the most? 

What I have learned, at times the hard way, is that growth requires change. That change can come from distancing ourselves from people or outright cutting the thread that connected us in the first place.

The beauty of social media (there are some good things among the pitfalls) is that you have a choice about who you follow and engage with. In the past two years, many of us have either quietly distanced ourselves from relatives who post things they'd never say to your face, or flat out deleted and blocked those old friends we certainly don't have much in common with anymore.

Here's the thing: that's OK.

Life-altering events bring out the reality of who we are. A crisis will show you who will be there to help pick up the pieces, and who will walk away because the building didn't fall on them this time. 

My job as a parent is to teach my children about compassion, responsibility and how to be a good member of our society. It's also about showing our kids, through our own actions, that you most certainly are the company you keep. When you surround yourself with good people you, in turn, will grow and prosper too.

Clicking that unfriend button was a valuable thing I learned during the pandemic — especially since I never did get that sourdough starter figured out.

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Tenille Lafontaine is a blogger, media spokesperson and brand ambassador in Regina. Named one of Reader's Digest's Top 10 Mommy Bloggers more than a decade ago, she has shared her voice in TV, radio and online media within Saskatchewan and across Canada since 2009 — and occasionally in lectures to her kids in the drive-thru line.