On Sunday afternoon, I was having a conversation with a friend on social media about a women's rights topic. Text after text was sent through Facebook messenger.
It was a lot to read, and I found myself firing back at him before I had processed what he had said. Eventually, I just texted him my phone number and asked him to call me.
I realized when I picked up the phone that I had not heard his voice in a year. Our conversation bounced from joke to serious concerns to memories to empathetic listening to strategizing and planning.
I had the opportunity to communicate to him a number of lessons I had been taught, and how I had formed my perspective. He explained to me his worldview, and how his mother and his girlfriend had shaped it, how they had been able to work together despite their differences simply because they were in the same space.
I told him this was why I had been frustrated with some younger acquaintances, who felt that because the Women's March was not to their idealistic standards, they were refusing to participate.
"The perfect is the enemy of the good," I said, relying once again on that old familiar saw. "And we will never get people enrolled if they don't form friendships first."
He and I realized that this was absolutely the issue surrounding our frustrations with online advocacy, and why I really enjoyed going to marches. At the march, I had the opportunity to meet people in real life.
I feel very lucky to have intergenerational friend groups and opportunities to learn from those who are both younger and older than me.
But as our world becomes more stratified by technology, and more and more meaningful conversations are happening on social media, I am realizing that we need to emphasize spaces where people can connect, especially with people who are different than them.
Without that basis of respect and friendship in real life and regular connection, it can become an enormous challenge to see our neighbors and friends as multifaceted, complicated, human people.
We become arguments on a page or in a text box or group chat; someone to beat in a debate instead of someone who deserves to be listened to.
Of course, I am an idealist but I am not ignorant, and I've had many reductive conversations in real life as well.
But I am thankful for the opportunities, such as community organizations, community spaces like gyms and libraries, volunteer efforts and classes, that allow me to meet and connect in an authentic way with people in real life.
In the winter, it can be hard to remind ourselves how important it is to leave our warm houses, comfy clothes, and blankets and meet other people again. But it is vital not only to our mental health, but to our democracy as well.