Best friends: A life affirming bond | Sunday Observer

Best friends: A life affirming bond

Every few weeks, I get an email saying that ‘this week is World Friendship week’ and you have to pass this email to seven other friends for good tidings. Noting wrong there, except that there are no officially designated ‘friendship weeks’. But the United Nations does have a day for friends – tomorrow, July 30 that celebrates not only friendship among individuals, but also among groups, organisations and countries.

The founder of Hallmark Cards created Friendship Day and it was promoted in the 1920s. However, since many saw the day as a ploy to sell greeting cards, the celebration of the holiday dwindled. The International Day of Friendship was proposed during the 1950s by Dr. Ramon Bracho at a dinner party at his house in Paraguay. Afterwards, the World Friendship Crusade organization petitioned the United Nations for decades to have the holiday made official. On July 27, 2011, the United Nations made July 30 the International Day of Friendship with the passing of a resolution.

Just what is friendship? It is generally a bond between two people but it could also be a bond between several people who share the same interests and passions. Friendships can be very brief or they can last a lifetime. Just who is a good friend? It is someone who will not only share your joy when you are doing well, but also and more importantly someone you can trust with your fears, secrets and failures. In fact, a friend who is around only for the joyous moments in your life is utterly useless – he or she should stick around when you are down and out too.

When do we first meet people who will come friends? It is generally kindergarten or Grade 1 in school. I still remember the first day of school, with a bunch of kids who were equally frightened as I was. These were naturally faces I had never seen, but soon enough, trepidation gave way to curiosity. The best way to make friends is to be one, of course. So all of us were eager leave that fear behind and know more about each other. So over the course of the next few weeks, we did.

More than 40 years later, two of them still remain very good friends – one incidentally works here at Lake House and the other at Ceylon Theatres right opposite Lake House. Proximity may have played a part in this string friendship, but I regularly meet around five of them and last year when I went to Canada, another one popped up at my brother’s house where I was staying. Yes, friendship can endure a long distance separation.

You can have a lot of friends in real life and online (at least one guy I know has 500 friends on Facebook, though more on that later), but usually, you will have a ‘best friend’. This is a friend you trust above all other friends, virtually with your life. He or she will be there for you no matter what time it is or where you are. He or she will be there in good times and bad times. The best friend is the one who will console you when you grieve and laugh with you when you pass that exam or get that long-awaited promotion. And best friends are usually for life.

But sometimes even the best of friendships can break. All through Grades 1 to 5, I had a best friend. We were always together in school. The something snapped one day and he showed me the classic ‘fingers crossed’ gesture used universally by schoolchildren to signify that a friendship is over.

That was the hardest day in my young life. It is very, very upsetting to lose your best friend this way. I suffered a lot mentally and I think he also did. However, many years later he buried the hatchet and we became good friends again, though not best friends. Both of us had moved on and had new best friends – after all, it is not unusual at all to have several best friends over the course of your life. We still meet occasionally at school events.

It is even harder to lose your best friend in the literal sense of the word. The death of a best friend is often an unbearable occurrence. You will probably grieve for a long time and without the emotional support of another friend, it would be even harder to bear it up. One of my relatives, who is 85, barely survived the death of his lifelong best friend. Indeed, the emotional impact can hardly be measured in quantifiable terms. Another instance is the migration of a best friend. With today’s technology such as Skype, Viber, Whatsapp and Facebook you can easily keep in touch with people living on the other side of the world, but nothing comes close to physical interaction in the real world.

A debate has arisen whether social media has actually driven us apart instead of bringing us together. Today, many youth are addicted to the likes of Facebook, checking their news feed every few minutes and sharing everything posted online. Some of these youth are so addicted to the smartphones that they do not have real friends in real life. I have seen plenty of instances when two or more people meet and all they do is look at their phones. There is no conversation, no fun or laughter. There is something seriously wrong if you have 500 friends on Facebook. It is far better to have 5-6 friends in real life whom you can meet in the flesh instead of online. If you do have a best friend, try to meet him or her in person as much as possible.

This brings us to another interesting question. If you are male, can you have a female best friend and vice versa? This is certainly possible, though be aware that it can sometimes blossom into a romance. I know plenty of people who have best friends from the opposite sex and they are just best friends, nothing more.

But things can get tricky when either or both parties in such a friendship get married. The respective spouses could have misunderstandings or misgivings about such friendships. In such a case, it is best to invite one’s best friend over to a meal and introduce one another.

This works best if both ‘best friends’ are married and who knows, you all may get along like a house on fire. But be aware that access to the best friend will be limited both ways in married life, with family commitments et al. It is a tightrope walk either way.

Things can also get tricky if you have a best friend at work. Having best friends at the workplace is not uncommon, but things can get awry if one of the friends get a promotion or post while the other still remains at the same position. If you become the boss, can you give special consideration to treatment to your best friend? Probably not. If you do, others are likely to complain to the superiors on the grounds of discrimination. If your best friend becomes the boss, can you still call him or her ‘machan’? Again, probably not. You can probably meet up after work and engage in banter, but in the office you will have to keep your distance.

I wanted to end this article somewhere here, but a colleague who saw what I was writing asked me whether someone can have a relative as a best friend.

He confessed that his cousin was his best friend. I kept thinking about it and my eventual response was ‘why not?’. I know many twins who are virtually inseparable – they are best friends for all intents and purposes. I know fathers and sons who are so close that they are virtually best friends. But again, having relative as a best friend could have negative points as well, so be cautious.

Remember, friendships know no boundaries. Many of my good friends are Tamil, Muslim and Burgher. Sometimes we can’t all get along because of differences in opinions on politics or religion. However, if we understand the importance of quality friendships, we are more likely to strive to maintain those friendships that are mutually beneficial. Having friendships can help us feel better about ourselves. Friends who are not envious or competitive also tend to complement each other on everything from inner strength, to being a good listener, to having a good sense of humour to clothing styles and choices.

When a person is dealing with a death in the family, serious illness, divorce or job loss, being able to have a best friend to lean on can be just as helpful as seeking professional help. Having strong social ties has been linked to reduction of depression, high blood pressure and unhealthy body mass index. People with full and active social lives have shown to live longer lives, in addition to happier ones. So go ahead, be a good friend and get a good friend, who may turn out to be your best friend.