“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.” ~ Zig Ziglar.
Being a great friend is very high on my to-be list because friendship is one of the most wonderful gifts in life. It’s universal throughout humanity; something each of us shares in common – the profound bond of friendship, which has the ability to teach us insights about life and about ourselves, if we’re open to it.
Merriam Webster defines a friend as someone “attached to the other by affection or esteem.” The 1913 edition defines friendship as what “arises from mutual esteem and good will,” two or more people having “an aptness to unite; affinity, harmony.”
I love these descriptions of what a friend is and what friendship should be because it speaks to the way we feel about our friends.
Whether a friend arrives for a reason, a season, or is staying for a lifetime; these relationships are incredibly valuable. Friends can serve as a mirror of our essence; friends can be our historians, our secret keepers, and our anchors during turbulent times, and our go-to when we need a good giggle and pick-me-up; our friends can be our partners in life’s journey. True friendship is unifying, healing, and supportive. When I think back to the happiest times of my life, my true friends are there in every memory.
What happens to our friendships, though, in times of struggle or difficulty? Oprah has a quote that I love, “Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
Our true friends are there for the party, and they stay to help us clean up. They celebrate our triumphs and share in our struggles to an equal degree. They offer their love, kindness, and connection in every circumstance, whether its a weekend vacation or a difficult conversation.
Brene Brown talks about this kind of connection in fascinating ways in her most recent book, Braving the Wilderness. The book is about the search for true belonging and having the courage to stand alone in the wilderness in what are some of the most polarized times in our society. The wilderness in this case is the commitment we make to live our most authentic nature and to speak our highest truth, even when it isn’t easy; the courage to seek connection even in the toughest of circumstances and to truly listen to others. All things that I have valued in my closest friends.
One chapter, in particular, got me thinking about this idea of true friendship. It’s titled, “People are Hard to Hate Close Up. Zoom in.” The chapter is about setting down snap judgments and group-hate (“all Democrats are losers!” and “Republicans are selfish!”) and getting to really know each other. Brown says that when we “zoom in,” we begin to see people; we see each other’s humanity and, while we may not agree with them, we find mutual respect and understanding. Zooming in means extending the energy of friendship to those we disagree with or those we might exclude. When we zoom in, we connect.
It’s easy to be a good friend to our good friends but how can we bring that same spirit of friendship to everyone – even, and especially, to those we deem as being very different from us?
It’s about defining what a true friend is to you and then becoming that kind of friend to everyone. Now, I’m not saying you should relate to everyone as if they are your longest, closest friend. I mean how can you offer the respect, understanding, and curiosity you have for your friends to everyone in your life?
For me, it’s creating the connection and the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued: giving and receiving without judgment. Approaching people in our lives with kindness instead of judgment can not only create amazing connections, but it also makes miracles happen. Science backs this up.
In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology; researchers asked participants to stand at the base of a steep hill, and simply estimate how tough they thought it would be to climb. Those standing with a friend gauged the ascent to be less steep, as opposed to those who were alone.
Research done at Harvard has shown that breast cancer patients with no friendship network are four times more likely to die from the disease than those with 10 or more close friends, indicating that disease becomes less deadly when our friends are around. What’s more, studies have also shown that social support can lower blood pressure, protect against dementia, and reduce the risk of depression.
The through line in both of these examples is the same as what Brown is talking about: connection. I think that “friendship” and “connection” could be interchangeable because each one leads to the other. Connection strengthens us; it heals us, it brings us closer together, and eliminates hate. It allows us to see an aspect of ourselves in everyone we meet which activates two of our human superpowers: empathy and vulnerability.
Through strong social bonds, our lives are incrementally enriched. Whether it’s a friendship that is 25-years-long and counting or the quick conversations you have with the people in your workout class, opportunities to be a friend and make a friend are everywhere. Any connection we have is an opportunity for true friendship and every friend made is like a pebble in a pond. It creates ripples of kindness and understanding across so many more lives than you can see.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
What do you value in your friendships? What makes you a true friend? Ask yourself how you can extend those qualities, even in little ways, to everyone you meet.