When in doubt and when NOT in doubt Ole and Sven jokes make for wise email material.

[imgcontainer] [img:norwegian-friends-530.jpg] [source]Jennifer Gildner [/source] When in doubt — and when NOT in doubt — Ole and Sven jokes make for wise email material. [/imgcontainer]

A friend just emailed me that there are two treatments for the most prevalent forms of influenza. For bird flu, the remedy is “Tweetment,” but for swine flu the best medicine is likely “Oinkment.”

Given the current state of world affairs, laughter is still the best medicine.

Sadly there are no such sure fire remedies for strained relationships. Since the last election, I find myself at odds with what seems like nearly half of everyone on earth — even many of the friends on my email list. People just seem testy these days, about almost everything. All in all, though, the second greatest divide among friends is still politics.

Over the years email has become my favorite form of communication because I don’t have to interrupt my work, or my contact’s work, with a phone call. I can answer an editor who wants to know if I really meant what I said in paragraph three, or let someone know that the meeting starts at one. Like most people who use email fluently, I have come to expect immediate reply. It used to take a day or two or three…no faster than snail-mail, but it was still cheaper. Now with BlackBerries, I-Phones, MMS and SMS, quick requests are expected to beget quick answers.

We’re living in the age of the instant text.

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The problem with instantaneousness is that in reading the printed word you can’t see a good natured smile or a casual posture. A face-to-face spoken message with winks, grins and inflections delivers a completely different meaning than the same words do reproduced on a LCD screen. And with misinterpretation, a quick reply can lead to an equally quick disagreement.

Lacking visual cues, jokes, good-natured jabs, and shared ironies suddenly become “fightin’ words,” especially where politics are concerned. Even those smiley-faced emoticons can seem sinister and sarcastic when texted across boundaries of political belief.

Friends can be wrong, but friends never lie.

Friends shouldn’t have to challenge friends to be truthful. Friends are for help putting out fires. They give you a lift, or cry with you over your loss. Friends are there for you even when you’re wrong. The people who raised me from an egg believed that friends didn’t lie to other friends to win an argument or to get a leg up in the relationship for bragging rights — or for any other reason.

I used to offer email referrals to Snopes or Truth or Fiction for email-friends who I thought were wrong, but it became a challenge between us sometimes simply to find something along the same line that couldn’t be debunked.

Political truth comes in many brands. 

Not every instant text or email requires –or deserves– a reply, even when it comes from a friend. Not replying is equivalent to a poker face. No clues are given, no hint of agreement or opposition and no ensuing hostility. Winning and losing hands alike are shielded from view and the friendly card game goes on.

Some messages still deserve quick responses, questions like “What time is the game?” or “Do you have Bill’s phone number?” Others messages, like “So, I see your guy wants to kill my Grandmother” or “Read this only if you are a True American” deserve the old heave-ho even though the temptation to respond is strong.

I’m learning to use the ‘delete’ button (or maybe just a buttoned lip) a lot more these days.

The best email friendship I’ve ever had was with an old high school buddy. Rod was a veteran who completed his service in Europe and here in the US. For him, the Army during the Viet Nam era was a great experience. He made no bones about the good fortune of having a security clearance that allowed him to sit behind a computer terminal instead of a sandbagged bunker or rice paddy in Southeast Asia. He also had no qualms about voicing his opinion that the best way to handle Middle Eastern extremists was to melt the Sahara and surrounding real estate into nuclear blue glass.

But Rod and I usually saved our political opinions for face to face meetings. He had his ideas and I had mine. Sometimes we agreed to disagree. We knew that the only real influence we held over anything in this world was the ability to maintain a 40-year friendship.

With a strong sense of self-deprecating humor, Rod was proud of his Norwegian heritage. When I heard from Rod over email, he generally confined his messages to a single topic: the two Norwegian friends Ole and Sven, who are legend for their special misunderstandings.

Rod passed away a few years ago and was buried with military honors. Once in a while Rod’s mother still sends me a joke about Ole and Sven, and their female companion Lena. It’s a little like hearing from Rod.

Rod loved to tell those jokes. I can still hear mirth in his voice turn from chuckles to uncontrolled laughter. And no matter how many times they were forwarded and re-forwarded, Rod still had to tell those jokes when we got together. I couldn’t help but laugh along with him no matter how many times I’d heard them.

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For a long time I kept Rod’s email address on my computer, and when I got a new Ole and Sven joke I sent it off in hopes that maybe an ethereal communication could span what is the greatest divide between friends. I never got a single bounceback.

Not one.

Happiness is the very best thing there is to share with a friend. Sometimes it’s the only thing. That’s why now and then, in some friendships, the delete button is the surest way for friends to avoid the second greatest divide.

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