Be a Friend

"You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes." - A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Festival of India, Washington Park, NYC, 2013

Festival of India, Washington Park, NYC, 2013

True friendship, according to Aristotle, is one of the "highest goods," or virtues most valued in life. All other things in life become important when shared with friends. More than two millennia after Aristotle's death, people continue to prove that life is more meaningful when experienced with others. After seeking freedom from society and from conformity, Christopher McCandless came to the realization that "happiness is only real when shared." C. S. Lewis agrees, saying that friendship may seem unnecessary on the surface, but it is "one of those things that give value to survival."

When America Online started to serve the masses in the early 90's, the concept of friendship began its transformation. Instead of the noun "friend," we now speak of the verb "to friend," as in "friend me on Facebook." This practice has reduced friendship to a passive networking activity, one where it is more important to be recognized as a connection than to actually be a friend. Driven by convenience, this trend dilutes what it means to truly be a friend, and the quality of our true friendships is suffering for it. We are postponing the maintenance of meaningful friendships, thereby treating friends as mere connections. Conditioned by the ease of typing to our friends, we may wake up one day and find ourselves with many, many friends, but that we are utterly alone. This new method of friendship has turned us into solitary individuals, silently typing into devices, reaching for one another in a boundless, virtual world. 

Unfortunately, hyper-connectivity is here to stay, so our job is to develop the skills necessary to nurture our 21st century friendships in deserving ways. It is important to meet our friends in real time, and in real space, to nurture these relationships. Prearranged outings show that we are aware of our friend's importance, and that we value their time. Face to face interactions assist in building our relationships, and help us to validate each other by sharing activities and experiences. It is in these personal moments that meaningful growth occurs, causing us to reach out, again and again, for our friends.

Hiding ourselves in text messages, emails, and status updates does nothing to get us out of our "corners of the forest." As A. A. Milne points out in his stories about Winnie the Pooh, "we must go to our friends," because they give meaning to our lives. We must remember that true friendships take time and effort to nurture, and we must do the work necessary to deserve our friends. For after all, it is through the presence of our friends that we are able to thrive, and be happy.