Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Friends and Friendship

Many of us settle for friends rather than friendship. We hang out with friends, but may not have a friendship based on mutual affection.

adult helping senior in hospitalFriends come easy for some people and hard for others. Friendships are earned, often in the crucible of shared events or experiences. Easing someone’s pain becomes the conduit to a heart-to-heart friendship.

My thoughts turned to friendships after reading a column on the subject by David Brooks. He cited ancient writers who referred to friendship as a pre-eminent human institution. Aristotle called friendship the cornerstone of society. “You can go without marriage, or justice, or honor, but friendship is indispensable,” Brooks wrote.

Modern social scientists say people with friendships are happier. They have someone who can share empathy and understanding. They have someone with whom they can confide and express their inner thoughts.

Married couples can be best friends. But marriage is not a guarantee of friendship. As Brooks put it, “Lovers face each other, but friends stand side by side facing the world.”

Most people yearn for deep, satisfying friendships, but we don’t always do what it takes to cultivate lasting friendships. My best friend in high school lives in Portland (we grew up in Colorado), but I’ve never tried very hard to rekindle what I felt was our friendship. My mother has a wide circle of friends, developed over years of caring for one another. She regards her friendships as lifelines, and they have proven true.

We fill up our lives in lots of ways, not always leaving time for establishing or nurturing friendships. We move to news places, take new jobs, sometimes even start new lives with new spouses. Old friends and dear friendships can fade into the sunset.

Brooks notes we substitute community for friendship. We attend festivals, return to college homecomings and go on cruises. Those can be avenues to form new friendships, but more often are opportunities for casual, pleasant, even beneficial acquaintanceships. We may get a great tip on another cruise or a great book to read.

Brooks suggests fostering friendship through a series of adult camps where people would rub shoulders on hikes and horseback rides or while cleaning up after a meal. He argues for highly diverse camps so we mix with people with different backgrounds and from different places.

Lg9VRyWBut maybe a better launchpad for friendship is to look up the phone numbers of email addresses of those we counted as our best friends to see if any embers remain of friendship.

We also should be open to new friendships, which might occur in the most unsuspecting places and times, with the most improbable people. Perhaps friendships would command more of our attention if we viewed them as lifeboats to navigate the seas of a changing world, if we believed Aristotle was right that friendships are the cornerstone of society.

More friendships may turn out to be a key to reducing violence and spreading the wealth of our society. If we understood and empathized with people in different circumstances than ours, the resulting friendships and mutual affection could become a powerful force.

Our circle of friends would be more than the sum total of a tailgate party, bridge game or weekend at the beach. Stronger friendships would serve as, in Brook’s words, a “social bridge,” shrinking the gaps between individual people and the divides between groups of people.






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