4 reasons for good-bye: Keep 'social networking’ from becoming ’social notworking’
4 reasons to say good-bye: ’Social networking’ versus ’social notworking’
Posted June 3, 2010
With Memorial Day behind, June ahead, and another academic year wrapping up it's time for good-byes.
Good-bye has been a June ritual on 12th Street where I have my office; psychiatric residents finish their training and move on. They say good-bye to patients, colleagues, and teachers—including me—and go forward to jobs, fellowships, practice.
But this year everything is different.
All the usual good-bye rituals have been blown to bits by the fact that our hospital, St. Vincent's, has died. After 160 years of service and months of rumors and hope the plug was pulled on April 30th. No more departmental Grand Rounds giving graduates a reason for a visit; no more patients transferred to new residents taught by the same teachers; no more classmates anointed with a faculty appointment. This year it is going to be a naked good-bye, unadorned by the traditional rituals of ending that always have helped buffer the experience.
I was then really intrigued when a graduating psychiatry resident I've taught for several years told me there has been more "see you on Facebook!" and "I'll follow you on Twitter" among her colleagues than she would have expected.
The fact that social networks are transforming the often messy difficult process of good-bye is no surprise. But I'm not so sure this is such a good thing. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not: not because there's anything wrong with staying in touch with old friends and former colleagues online—actually, that can be pretty great—but because processes of saying good-bye can be so psychologically rich and valuable it would be a real shame to lose the experience just because we now have a technologically-mediated easy way out.
I know, I know; no one likes to say good-bye: there are too many feelings and no convenient place to put them all. Who wants to participate in something that makes everyone uncomfortable? It is so easy to fall out of synch with those around you and end up feeling alone (and maybe kind of stupid). After all, when saying good-bye nostalgic feelings of loss often mingle with relief that this or that damned thing is finally over and who wants the vulnerability of feeling loss when the other may be feeling relief? That sounds especially unpleasant.
It's much easier to cut-and-run and avoid the whole thing, or maybe pretend the relationship was never that important, or that it really isn't ending. Such avoidance and denial are psychologically traditional methods we all learn for how not to say good-bye. And now social networks also make it very easy not to say good-bye. They can help you feel there is no real need to do so because you are still going to be "friends" who can stay in constant online contact.
But neither avoidance nor denial will improve your life and the emotional alchemy of social networks really can't turn a fondly remembered old friend into the companion or co-worker they once were. Our need for the presence of each other—to see and be seen—is just too strong. In fact, such mutual recognition is part of what makes us human.
Saying good-bye to each other at transitions, and receiving the good-bye of others, can actually help us get the most out of where we've been and get ready for where we're going. But when social networking is used to avoid the human process of saying good-bye it becomes "social notworking," i.e. asking a social network to fulfill a social need that can only be fulfilled through traditional, fleshy, and mutual interactions.
What I want to try and do is make it a little harder to take the easy way out by "social notworking" by highlighting the value of good-bye. So, here are 4 reasons why saying good-bye, as difficult as it may feel in the moment, is in the best interest of building a good life:
1. Saying good-bye is part of the relationship
A really good way to think about relationships is to see them like stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end—not terribly original, I know, but very useful. Good-bye is just part of the relationship. Not only that, not only is saying good-bye part of the relationship, the process can often be the best part. The end is when you find out what happened and who would want to miss out on that. For example, if you spent 6 years watching Lost would you even consider missing the last episode and decide instead just to read about the conclusion online? Of course not. Same thing with classmates, teachers, administrators, co-workers, etc. The only way to experience the end of the stories you've been living is to experience them, to engage fully the process of saying good-bye.
2. Saying good-bye is a process not a moment
Have you ever felt that "I should say something but I don't know what to say" moment of anxiety when saying good-bye? Or any other uncomfortable moment? I'm sure the answer is yes. In fact, uncomfortable moments are intrinsic to the process. But, and this is the important part, they are not the entire process. Saying good-bye takes place over lots of moments, not just the uncomfortable anxious ones. Keeping in mind that you are engaged in a meaningful process—with lots of potential gratification—can help when things feel uncomfortable; try to remember that sometimes the good stuff doesn't come until much later. While the uncomfortable moments are in the present tense, the gratifications of the process are written in both the present and the future and sometimes you just have to wait for the good things to come around.
3. Saying good-bye is full of unexpected feelings
You never know what you are going to feel when you say good-bye. This is a good thing; it keeps life interesting. When you leave—or are left—the experience touches all the other times you went through a good-bye: from the most routine to the most traumatic, from all those mornings on the way to school when you said good-bye to Mom or Dad to your broken hearts and mournful deaths. Saying good-bye is a chance to re-connect with the person you were and the feelings you had all across your life. It's life giving you a chance to feel it all over again. Good-bye let's you reconnect with all the "selves" you have been. In other words, saying good-bye is another way to say hello to your own personal history.
4. Saying good-bye is what starts the next new thing
Life and memory are not linear. They overlap. Imagine a library where the start of every book was the ending of some other book. If you don't write the ending of an experience you are also degrading the start of the new experience. Saying good-bye includes both who you were when the relationship that is ending started and who you are becoming in the next thing you are doing. One can think of good-bye, when the process is fully engaged, as a bridge anchored in the next new thing with all those inevitable uncomfortable moments the toll you have to pay. In other words (again), saying good-bye is just another way to say hello to your own personal future.
And, just to make things explicit, this post is also a moment in my process of saying good-bye to St. Vincents's. I've met some truly amazing people (patients, students, teachers, and colleagues) who have helped make me who I am. The experiences—good and bad— leave me with a sweetwater reservoir of feelings and experiences I will drink from for a long, long time.