You may care to have a copy of Emily Post ready to hand as you read this. Or any other competent volume of etiquette written in the 19th or 20th century. Please note that I speak of civilian and secular practice – military or religious expectations are different.
I believe you will find that the ritual and art of introductions forms an important part of the works. Rules will be laid down for the timing, precedence, and form of social introduction. They can be quite complex, but generally devolve into three things:
a. A recognition of the responsibility of the person effecting the introduction.
b. Proper recognition of the seniority, and place of the parties.
c. Sensible appreciation of the circumstances.
Let me deal with these in turn, but in reverse order, and with reference to the social media phenomenon that is Facebook.
Appreciation of where you are and what you are doing in a social sense is vital. You do not start glad-handing people in a funeral procession nor do you stand aloof and cold at a frat house kegger party. Your manners vary at a public dinner from those at a private one. Cocktail parties have their own ambiance and requirements. You adjust your degree of intimacy with each.
Facebook is on your own computer – look upon it as a cocktail party in your home. Bright, witty, ephemeral. A two-drink and gone affair. It may stir you but it need not shake you.
By the same token, it should never be an occasion that requires you to suffer insult or to come into contact with knavery. You neither need to be strained nor stained.
Now to the question of a proper order of introduction. Dive into Emily Post and you may be bewildered by the levels of precedence and rank. I should be terrified of trying to meld together members of the Russian Court with the higher prelates of the Anglican Church – I think I would just give them both a sherry and run for it. But really, it just works out to a case of introducing people who you value to people who you value more. Done with good will, even a small social gaffe is harmless.
Facebook is altogether different. Here an introduction is not done by saying ” Mother, I would like to introduce Dr. Frederick Jones ” and so on – in the case of people who ” share ” the writings of others to their Facebook friends it is more a case of someone standing on a soap box with a megaphone. At a cocktail party…
And finally the most important consideration. A social introduction of one person to another is a hefty responsibility. While you cannot guarantee the one being introduced, the very fact that you are effecting it means that you are warranting them – you are warranting that they are not knaves and that you KNOW it. You cannot say that they are not fools – folly forms such a large part of everyone that this must be hazarded always.
Your honour is involved in your introduction. Every time you do it you do so at your peril. Do it carefully.
Facebook has opened the way for this caution to be thrown to the winds – particularly during political campaigns. People introduce others to speak for them by ” sharing ” their writings but do so largely with no personal contact with the writer. They cannot warrant their behaviour, and thus invalidate the introduction and possibly defile their own honour in so doing. Imagine…
You ” share ” the post of a stranger, the stranger turns out to be a scoundrel. You have attached yourself to them in the most public way possible. Even if the scoundrel said what you wanted to say, and what they said was witty, and powerful, and even correct. The fact that they are a scoundrel and you introduced them still sticks to you…
I participate cheerfully in the cocktail party that is Facebook. I dodge into conversations, pop wise, then skitter away. I should be, and occasionally am, scolded for this – but the intrusions are nearly always good humoured. I am pleased to say that of my 185 contacts on Facebook, I have spoken face-to-face with 184 of them and CAN introduce many of them as people free of guile.
I value their reputations, and have decided upon a plan to avoid the danger of associating them in the future with the vile or disreputable. I am going to make sure that I do not place them in an invidious position by accepting introductions that eventually prove noxious. I am simply going to use the little mechanism on the upper right hand side of the Facebook timeline feed that allows me to turn away in time.
Should I find one of my friends making their way through the crowd at the virtual cocktail party with some political commentator in tow – they announce themselves by that dreads word ” share ” or ” liked ” – I shall press the button and block them. It will be a kindly act – they will be saved from possible social disgrace.
I hasten to add that I will never block a person’s own writing. Their own thoughts in their own words…even if those words are mis-spelled or punctuated badly…are worth reading. I give my friends the right of freedom of speech to me, as long as it is they who are speaking.
Note on social introductions: If ever you are with me and I do not introduce you to someone, the reason I do not do so is that I do not feel I can enter into the social warranty. You are free to wonder about the behaviour and character of the other person, if you wish…