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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Never Lose a Friend

We should never suffer the loss of a friend. Each friend we acquire is an essential piece of our lives, a precious gift of acquaintance. In our short existence, we need firm attachment with all of our friends. Without them, we could never find the strength to face the many challenges we encounter and progress with our work.

Of course, most of us count our family as close friends, indispensable allies with close blood ties. Besides our family, we gain intimate companions, trusted confidants, loyal associates, and sidekicks. These friends become advisers and assistants who take on important roles in our existence. We vow our continuing allegiance to all our friends.

But, try as we might to maintain each dear relationship, we lose many friends. We experience loss with distance. Sometimes we literally move far away from cherished friends and find it impossible to keep close ties. And, we disassociate from other friends as we find personal reasons to end alliances and to end betrothals. Even more friends seem to drift away for no particular reason other than the webs of familiarity we inhabit change over time. Of course, we also tragically lose friends to death.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to keep every friend we make for life, from childhood pals to alter egos? I'm sure no one has accomplished this feat -- even Jesus had his Judas. Yet, we have ourselves to blame for having so few friends as time progresses. We are able to maintain friends over great distances, and we are capable of keeping friendships despite other difficulties that threaten bonds. The truth is we choose to weaken coalitions and detach ourselves from what we once viewed as indestructible. We fall victim to excuses that end vital pacts. We lose many friends to satisfy our own selfish desires.

Our notion of what makes a good friendship changes very little over our lifetime, but our capacity to maintain one does. Going our separate ways -- launching our careers, getting married, having children, getting divorced, caring for aging parents -- we're often unable to muster the time and energy to maintain friendships we profess to value. Keeping friends requires hard work. Simply put, "we must show up."

(Karen Karbo. "Friendship: The Laws of Attraction." Psychology Today. November 1, 2006)

Giving, Not Receiving

What makes us value a friend? According to Ben Franklin, it's giving and not receiving that makes us value a friend more. He first observed the paradox, now called the Ben Franklin Effect:

"He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another
 than he whom you yourself have obliged."  

We want to validate our personal judgment by investing special qualities in those we select to help.

According to Marquette University psychologist Debra Oswald, who has studied the nature and complexity of high school "best" friendships, there are four basic behaviors necessary to maintain the bond. And they hold true whether we're 17 or 70.

"Communication facilitates the first two essential behaviors: self-disclosure and supportiveness, both necessary for intimacy. We must be willing to extend ourselves, to share our lives with our friends, to keep them abreast of what's going on with us. Likewise, we need to listen to them and offer support.

"Fortunately, studies show that physical proximity has little effect on the ability to keep a friendship in working order. Moving to another state is not the friendship death knell it once was, thanks to the Web. Between e-mail and cell phones with free long distance, we're able to stay close. Maintaining a lively e-mail correspondence may often be as good as being there.

Interaction is the third essential in tending to a friendship. You've got to write, you've got to call, you've got to visit. Find the nearest Starbucks and take time to catch up. "The specific activity doesn't matter," says Oswald. "The important thing is to interact."

The last and most elusive behavior necessary for keeping friends is being positive. Social psychologists tout the necessity of self-disclosure, but that doesn't mean an unrestricted license to vent. At the end of the day, the intimacy that makes a friendship thrive must be an enjoyable one, for the more rewarding a friendship, the more we feel good about it, the more we're willing to expend the energy it takes to keep it alive."

(Debra L. Oswald and Eddie M. Clark. "Best Friends Forever?: High School Best Friendships and the Transition to College." Personal Relationships Volume 10, Issue 2. June 2003)

My Take

I can see many of my own faults when I consider lost friendships. Umpteen of these shortcomings relate to my broken charge to be supportive and positive. I realize that friendship is a two-way avenue of give and take. At times, I gave far too little to others.

The point I am making today is that I should have taken more responsibility for those who befriended me. I appreciate those who took extra minutes to show me they cared, and I regret I have not done more to extend my friendship like those sensitive, caring individuals who reached out to me.

I know I have taken for granted that many friends love me. And, I know I have personally destroyed important friendships by being selfish. Sometimes I recall wonderful, sincere friends of my past -- especially those whom I left in the wake of my own egotistical voyage. Each of these lost friends helped me in times of need. My own popularity caused me to develop shallow understandings of the value of specific friends.

I would like to take time to apologize for my responsibility in losing friends. Although it is impossible to determine how many people distanced themselves from me because of my actions, I am sorry that I lost every single one. My ignorance of handling friendly relationships cannot make up for anyone I have hurt. I can only hope that before we drifted apart, I helped each in some small way.

My most cherished days are those spent with many friends with whom I developed circles of trust and dependence. I was never as strong as in the days I spent with others who shared and cared. I told myself I would never leave these friends, that I would always be there. What a sobering reality it is to realize that I lied.

Let me say again, I believe we should never suffer the loss of a friend. Perhaps my memory is the faculty that allows me to affirm the belief, for in my recollection, I store eternal friendships. In my mind, I have the fondest memories of doing so many things with friends I have lost to time, distance, and neglect. I love each friend for "showing up." Somehow, some way, every one of you helped make my life better.

So, today, I vow to never lose a friend -- past or present. You will always occupy my mind and help me, no matter where you are. I vow to remain in your thoughts and assist you, too. And, I hope we can all pledge to make many more new friends in the time we have remaining. To limit ourselves new acquaintances is to stagnate. God knows we must love each other and keep expanding our base of friends. When we continue to show up, we solidify our bonds and strengthen the lives of each other.

A Time to Talk 

by Robert Frost

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, "What is it?"
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

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