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My Observations...

Friendship

“Without friendship, life is not worth living,” exclaimed the Roman Statesman Marcus Cicero.

How much different would our society be if we could “buy” our deceased friends back to Earth? Think about this for a minute. You have lost a very close friend, but God says to you: “You can have (insert name here) back on Earth for another 5 years, but you have to donate $50,000 to charity.” Would you do it?If you didn't have the money, would you get a loan?

I have several deceased friends who I would happily pay to have them back on Earth for some time longer, even if it meant I had to secure a loan. I am sure you would do the same exact thing. Their friendship and our memories together are priceless. But how many times now, with our living friends, do we spend the extra money to treat them to lunch, to a movie at the cinema, or even pay for the gas or airline ticket to go visit them? Yet, just a few sentences before this, we thought of paying tens of thousands of dollars to bring them back to life for a couple more years!

We’re willing to spend this money to bring friends back, because we understand the importance of friendship. In other words, we recall the good times and camaraderie. Friendship is even becoming more important nowadays for several reasons:

1. Americans are having smaller families. My great-grandfather reared 15 children, and my grandmother had 7 brothers and sisters. Those days are practically non-existent now. Today, you must find your friends outside your small family unit.

2. We are a mobile society and many of us don’t live close to home anymore. Although you cannot replace family members when you move, you can always form new friendships.

3. Thanks to advances in modern medicine, we tend to live much longer than our grandparents and their grandparents did. The average American male lives to be approximately 76 and the average American woman lives to be approximately 81. As our life expectancy increases, so does the likelihood of living a decade or more cut off from the day-to-day interaction offered by our spouse, who may die years before we do. My great-grandmother, Isabel, is 100 years old at the time of this writing and she has outlived her husband by 50 years, and three of her four children.

4. Friendship is important to our health. Studies show that friendship positively impacts our mental health, and our physical health if we do outdoor activities with our friends. Think of the popular television shows "Seinfeld" and "Friends." They make us laugh and feel good for a reason.

In her book, “Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and how it Shapes our Lives,” Dr. Jan Yager classified friends into three categories:

1. Best: These friends are there for you no matter what. The friendship has stood the tests of time. My friend Jacob McMillan (KIA Operation Iraqi Freedom) and I used to joke that a friend is somebody who will help you move; a best friend is somebody who will help you move a body.

2. Close: A close friend is not a person you see or talk to daily, but if you needed them in an emergency, they would come.

3. Casual: This person is at the level right above “acquaintance.” It's a pleasure to see this person briefly, but the relationship isn't significant. This could be a coworker or former classmate.

So how do you go from making an acquaintance to meeting your next best friend?

1. Visibility: This is the most critical to developing friends. You must be putting yourself in situations that will allow you to meet people. All of my best friends were at one time a stranger.

2. Shared Experiences: Events, experiences, and memories are what cement friendships.

3. Expand your Interaction: You must expand your interaction beyond the original basis on which you and your acquaintance first met and interacted. Otherwise, there is no growth.

4. Time: According to Dr. Yager's research, it took on average three years from the time two people met and became acquaintances until a genuine tried-and-true friendship developed. By that time, most acquaintances are no longer convenient. Someone may have graduated, switched schools, gotten a promotion, changed jobs, moved away, gotten married or divorced, or had a child. All of these changes are "tests" of your friendship.

Beware of how marriage will impact your friendships. In addition to the time-consuming commitment to a spouse, marriage means taking on another set of family relationships, such as in-laws, nieces and nephews. These role relations cut down on the time and need for outside friends. There is also a spouse's friendship network that will take time to get to know.

"Psychology Today" conducted a friendship poll of 40,000 men and women about why friendships ended. The 4th and 5th most cited reasons related to one of the friends getting married. That’s unfortunate because marriage should not end prior friendships.

Here are some tips to maintain and improve a friendship:

1) Become a better listener. Your friends want to hear about your triumphs, wows, and everyday goings, but they are usually more interested in telling you about what is happening in their lives.

2) Build trust. This means you are there for your friend, and your friend is there for you. It also means if you reveal private thoughts or information or share something confidential, it is not revealed. How can you tell if a friend is trustworthy? Do you overhear your friend telling “white lies” to others? The white lie used on somebody
else might just someday be applied toward you. Does your friend cancel appointments or break commitments without enough notice, or without good reasons? Do they return any of the material goods (books, clothing, equipment, dvds) you might lend them?

3) Share activities. The friendship strengthens and deepens through shared experiences. Maintaining contact is necessary if the friendship is going to grow. The best way to grow the friendship is getting together in person, the second best way is by telephone, and the third is by email/letters/cards.

Keep in mind that it is easier to intensify a friendship that has limited contact than it is to resurrect one that has dramatically ended, or to create a new friendship. The first step toward salvaging a friendship that is fading is to recognize that this friendship requires your attention.

Almost everyone Dr. Yager interviewed for her dissertation on friendship was unable to recall the precise moment an acquaintanceship became a friendship. However, all could identify a specific point/incident/ reason why the friendship ended.

The ending of some friendships will be out of our hands. We must deal with car accidents, violent crimes, health issues (heart attacks, cancer, etc.), and war.

However, most casual friendships ended because of inconvenience. There was a change in the relationship (changed jobs, somebody moved, marriage, became a parent,) that caused the friendship to be more difficult to maintain that it was deemed worth. Best and close friendships have stood the tests of time and such major life events may hurt the friendship, they don't cause its end.

The bottom line is that our friendships are vital to our well-being. Friends are not luxuries; they are necessities. We are better people because of our friends. Friendship can be compared to a garden. If you neglect your garden, it will most likely wither and die. But if you show it care and attention, it will grow, be fruitful, and return dividends to you.
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