Friends, How Many of Us Have Them?

Growing up with a single mother and a tight knit immediate family, there are many unwritten laws and values that are held. Those central values must be abided by if conflict is to be avoided. this formed way of functioning in passed down to each new generation. Due to this bequeathing of life lessons, my mother has a typically old fashioned way of parenting. She takes after her father in this way, a very intelligent and experienced man, yet tightly fastened to old world notions and beliefs of his time.

My grandfather and I

Of the many beliefs which my mother has vigorously attempted to instill within me- many of them to no avail- there are two that always stood out to me…

Firstly, the thought that children have a lower place amongst societal rankings, especially in the setting of families. They are to speak only when spoken to and not take initiative to endeavor into the issues of the “adult world”. With that, no adult is a friend of a child, especially not the parent. Secondly, that in general, not everyone is your friend and one should be limited and cautious of who they label as a friend.

Due to this prominent preface of the ideals around a “friend” at a young age, I have always pondered on what friendship really entails. Does age or status matter in a friendship; if someone is my coach, can they not also be my friend? Why does it really matter who you call a friend? What are the prerequisites needed to fulfill the role of a friend?

In the Oxford English Dictionary, Friend is defined as “A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.” And next most common, “A person who is not an enemy or who is on the same side.” In this sense, a friend is a pretty general term for two people who have a platonic appreciation for each other and want mutual success. However, the first definition transitions into a deeper discussion of what it means to truly know someone.

With the vast nature of the human mind and all other outlying forces, I would argue it near impossible to truly know someone. Thoroughly getting to know oneself is a full enough task. If you could ask any famous western philosopher or even Drake, they would agree that knowing yourself is the key to successful personal and interpersonal relationships. Consequently I would note it to be a key to a strong friendship. If you find it a little too objective to claim that one can ever truly know another, it makes more sense to base friendship on how someone just makes you feel. this would make a large determining factor of labeling someone a friend, is merely what feels right in the moment. Weighing out the connections and benefits they add to your life and the baseline impressions they give you is often times enough to label someone as a friend for most people. Just finding someone that opens you to new ideas and a companion you can explore life with.

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” Anaïs Nin

In kindergarten, I was first introduced to the possibility of ranking people you associated with based on how much you liked them. It was stressed to us that all of our peers were in fact, friends. From this sprouted best friends. The idea of a best friend was that you spent the most time and were the most fond of this other person. This person or persons (if you were like me and had a group of best friends) easily became a priority over the other friends you had.

Kindergarten graduation ceremony with two of my then closest friends (me far right)

Though what we knew about each other was trivial information fitting of our innocence and age, we still held onto those titles with great regard. That is until the tides turned and a new friend worked their way up or down the social hierarchy. Being a very sociable person, I did continued to associate with many people and loosely label them all openly as friends. Even as I grew in age, I found it hard to not believe a person my friend. Everyone has different and each person holds a unique quality that I appreciate. Even those who I don’t know very well, yet I enjoyed talking to at times were truly nothing more than acquaintances I had just superficially attached too giving of a label on them due to my naive and friendly spirit further catalyzed by the need of adults to stress positive connections. I believe a major miss-step on the part of many childhood mentors is not putting enough validity to just being a fellow class mate or peer. Being forced to view everyone as a friend and discouraging special bonds with few friends is an issue agrees Brett Laursen, psychology professor from Florida Atlantic University , “Do we want to encourage kids to have all sorts of superficial relationships? Is that how we really want to rear our children?… We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones.” There are lessons to be learned from all people especially the experiences of negative interactions. The need to shield children from all harm causes a domino affect for poor relationship building in the future. In which case, my mothers lesson on being cautious of who you label a friend has some merit.

This leads to the idea she raised of adult-child relationships. The outgoing and somewhat stubborn personality of mine, mentioned earlier — causing me to at times, feel the need to make sure my opinion is heard. Even to an authority figure like a teacher I must get my point across. I was often sent to the office for “talking back” as punishment for that obstinate tendency of mine. During my ostracizing, I would sit in the office with the schools secretaries and the teachers that were on break and chat with them. Small talk with adults became a favorite pass-time of mine. I was always very bright fro my age so it wasn't hard to capture and maintain the attention of this audience decades my senior. I imagine however if my mother were to be privy to such interactions, she would have many reservations. In a society where power structures lead to over powering those under you — seen in forced inappropriate sexual relationships and other despicable acts — it can be very difficult to find comfort in closer relationships between youth and adults. Even with those cases, I strongly believe the mutualistic interactions with listening adults and coaches made way for me to expand my perception of the world, myself and mature in a very comfortable and graceful way. Psychologists have commented on the fear behind having adult-child relationships that are not of kin. It is a highly debated topic (as well it should be) that carries merit on both ends. looking on personal experience i feel rewarded from the relationships I have had with adults that weren't strictly authoritarian in nature. With parent and child there is a general need for structure and rules but a more give and take, open relationship may prove fruitful in terms of honesty and shared growth. If a parent isn't willing to hear out the side of a child it shows they feel that individual has no sense of importance and their opinion is irrelevant. It can further be assumed that parent feels they know all there is to know bout life and the lessons you can learn from all

Phil and Luke Dunphy from Modern Family sitcom

I don’t necessarily think my mother is utterly and completely wrong in her views. She is only doing what she learned to instill important values in her growing up. I do however think there is need for malleability in a relationship of any kind. Power should never be the main objective of teaching someone to grow and become an independent, respectful member of society. If i was to give the most credit to one aspect of my life that has helped me prosper and find out the depths of my interaction with the world, it would be friendship. The ever changing definitions of the word “friend”, are affected by technology, language and experience like all words. One thing that will always stand is that the experience of a healthy and beneficial friendship that is open, honest and dependable, is integral to a happy life from young childhood into old age.

A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow — William Shakespeare