Friendship Is Magic

Posted on 13 August 2015

In 1989 I joined an electronic bulletin board system (BBS). It was what we had for Internet before the Internet became broadly available to the public. In the years I participated in the BBS community I was impressed by the sheer volume of friendships the system brought into being, and the diversity of those friendships. We had eighty year-olds making friends with eleven year-olds. We had visually unlikely couples fall in love because they shared values and interests. We had people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds making connections without judgement. It was inspiring. I so miss the barbeques we used to have where we would meet the amazing people to whom we had opened our hearts.

These days we have social media as a place to interact, sometimes even find one another. What concerns me is how people seem to be using this media as a place to feel connected without actually going beyond friendly acquaintances to caring companions. Of the people you chat to online, how many of them would be there for you if you were in real trouble? If you needed someone to pick you up and take you to the hospital, would anyone do it? If you were without work, without money, and discovered you were without food, would anyone drop by with a lasagne?

This is an important issue. Our culture seems to be breaking down the bonds humans have enjoyed for hundreds of years, and this doesn’t bode well for our future.

Our culture teaches us to be afraid of one another. We are afraid we will be judged on how we smell, what clothes we wear, what car we drive, what we look like: because feeling afraid in this way sells product. We are fearful for our survival because we are taught competition is an important value, as such everyone is the enemy since one person’s win is another’s loss. We are endlessly instructed in how to manipulate one another in order to succeed, as such it is sometimes hard to know when someone is being genuine and when they simply want something from you.

Much of the cynicism we see today comes from manipulation fatigue. Squishy feely stuff has been used so often to get a marketing result, many people feel more uncomfortable than ever with using the word “love”. A US study found the word is “less likely to feature in popular chart music than at any time since the Beatles.

Human beings are hard-wired to need social interaction. When we aren’t receiving sufficient connection, we start having issues with depression. With a culture that portrays our current distant behavior as “normal”, it becomes difficult for many people to recognise they are suffering from a form of emotional deficiency. Their sense of despair is an alarm that they need to stop focussing on themselves in insecure terror and start caring about others, forming lasting bonds. Healthy bonds with friends, family, community, and humanity is what will ultimately turn the world’s problems around.

If you are unsure whether you are experiencing friend deficiency, then consider these aspects of friendship and whether they are a part of your life.

Shared experiences/regular time together
Online time counts, but it must include genuine face to face time.

Shared values
We all need to regularly reaffirm what is most important in our lives, such as family, the environment, good health, social justice, etc. Having someone who validates our highest values helps us all to become better people.

Sharing of narratives
We all need to share our experiences. This helps us to grow and reaffirms our humanity. We also need to listen to others’s narratives in order to better understand them and to feel empathy and compassion toward them.

Authentic self revelation
This goes deeper than just sharing a narrative. It’s where we talk about our feelings and allow our more vulnerable selves to be known. This is necessary for deep connections. But it cannot be forced.

Validation
You and your friends regularly reassure one another as to your value as people. This comes in the form of congratulations, gratitude, “you’re right”, “you’re fine”, and “you can do it” moments. We then need to use this validation to maintain the skill of validating ourselves. Anything less becomes learned helplessness and codependency. Balance is called for.

Honesty
Everyone needs people they trust deeply enough that they can take honest assessment from them. We are not always able to reflect upon ourselves without positive or negative distortions. Our personal growth relies on friends providing an honest mirror upon occasion. Make sure that you care enough about a person to be honest with kindness.

Respecting boundaries
We must respect one another’s autonomy. If a friend says, “no”, then “no” it is. Trying to enforce ideas, activities, physical attention, etc on someone violates their personhood. People who attempt to take over another’s life are not seeking friendship, but to enlarge themselves.

Respecting freedom
Are you free to come and go from this relationship? Or is your presence considered mandatory? Friendship trusts goodwill is there without having to manipulate for it. Emotional slavery tends to squeeze all the goodwill out of a relationship.

Physical warmth
Medically it has been shown that physical connection is crucial to good health. This must be done with respect to boundaries, but that warmth can include simple things like eye contact, a pat on the hand, a gentle tone of voice, as well as hugs and kisses.

Acts of kindness and support
Remembering a birthday or anniversary, asking about a person’s well-being, being available for a cup of tea, bringing around a bag of chips or a plate of biscuits, being in the audience for a speech or performance: the small things can mean a lot. Sometimes you might be called upon for bigger shows of support. If you have been practising the other points of friendship with someone for some time, the greater acts of compassion are more likely to emerge naturally.

Everyone feels safer when they have built a community where friendship is nurtured and central to our functioning. The world can change for the better in a gentler and more graceful manner when we forge these sorts of bonds, rather than relying on outrage. Rage destroys things. Friendship gives us a vision and a goal for a better future. Make your online interactions a springboard for more community involvement and thereby the means to deeper relations. You will feel better about yourself.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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