I Can’t Stand Friend Spam! (Though I Do It.)

The remedy? Be an artist, activist or pilgrim.

The other day I was having coffee with my friend Mark, and we got around to talking about our frustrations. Being disappointed by our friends came up. Not having funds for a great idea. Our friends marketing things on their social networks. “This last one is on the rise,” Mark said as he sipped his coffee. “Maybe it’s the 140 characters thing. I feel like we live in the age of relationship spam. Everyone is pushing their thing, whether you want to hear it or not.”

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never had any desire to play FarmVille or watch 50 or more YouTube videos that my friends have suggested. I don’t need more salespeople in my life. I want to hang with people who care. Relationship marketing gives me the same shivers I see my son get when he stares down a plate of spinach.

And yet immediately I felt an uncomfortable tension. Though Mark and I both work at professional jobs, we also both run churches as volunteers. We love our communities and the beauty of everyone serving one another. But every church leader asks, how might our church grow? How do we put our message out there? And every church leader answers, relationship marketing. Friend spam.

“I read something interesting the other day,” Mark said. “It picked up exactly on this point of how, in today’s world, no one wants to be bothered by what you sell.” So what would this article recommend that people like us do? “The answer they gave was, be like artists, activists and pilgrims.”

Artists, the article said, are allowed to be out of the mainstream and to disdain what people think of them. They’re allowed to see and voice things that people wouldn’t otherwise think about. They raise questions. And people are naturally interested in their views.

People also admire activists. They’re driven towards a greater good. If their agenda isn’t too threatening to us, we’re drawn to their passion and their risky, challenging journey. What keeps them going? What are they seeing? We appreciate it when people care enough to make a better world, and we’re happy to listen to them if we trust their values.

Pilgrims are journey-people. Whether recreational (cycling through Patagonia), scientific (solving vaccine problems), entrepreneurial (building better city infrastructure) or religious (walking the path to Santiago de Campostela), we love heroic stories like these. The vision, the passion, the pain—it makes us feel alive.

Mark said that we want to hear from people who are on the verge of another world and so can speak from a life of passion and conviction. My own life can become small and tidy. My communication (in work, in my marriage, in my church, in my relationships) can become clichéd and agenda-driven. What I learned over that cup of coffee was how much I appreciate daring people and how much I ache to be one myself.

Even on social media, what bold, unpredictable, wild, dangerous people say doesn’t feel like spam.

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