“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” Shannon Alder, Therapist and Author
Because of the coronavirus friends are urged to stay away and avoid physical contact.
True friends are a real treasure. The COVID-19 pandemic is really bringing home that point. By telephone, email, or social media, friends are checking up on each other, comforting each other and keeping each other in good spirits. And when the occasion calls for it, they pray for each other; the non-praying folks send good energy to each other.
But all this is being done from afar. During a time of crisis, when we would want the comfort of being with friends, the medical people and the political folks are telling us to keep away from everybody, including our friends, and that the best thing we can do for our friends as well as ourselves is to keep away from our friends.
Annoying and inconvenient as they are, we know that the stay-away mandates are logical and for the public good. Indeed, with 88,000-plus COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S., we’re living in scary times. Hearing daily reports about people who were healthy one day and then in a few days are dead is depressing and frightening. Every cough, every sneeze, every clearing of the throat is suspect. Attorneys specializing in end-of-life matters in Texas (and other states) report a surge in business related to drawing up Last Wills and Testaments. (Source 1). The same is occurring in the life insurance industry. (Source 2)
So, who are our friends, and how many are they?
Psychologists postulate that the average person has about 150 friends (the maximum size of a functional social network according to the best anthropological evidence). Of these, about 15 are very good friends, people we are in contact with regularly, care about deeply, and on whom we can rely when we need (emotional and other) support. These 15 people comprise about 60 percent of our social capital (set of shared values that are the vehicle for meaningful interactions among a group of people). (Source 3) It is these 15 friends whom we would want to be with and around during a scary time such as we are experiencing.
Friends are those we would want to be with and around during a scary time such as we are experiencing.
Traditionally, research on friends and friendship has focused on three specific factors that have been found to have a significant effect on whom we befriend: propinquity (physical closeness), similarity, and physical attractiveness. That is, people tend to be friends with people who are physically close—often a next-door neighbor or other close-by neighbor (same block, same neighborhood, same apartment building, etc.)—and who are like themselves, and who are (at least in their eyes) attractive. However, these criteria seem to be changing.
In a recent study, participants (491) responded to the question “What qualities do you look for in a close friend?” The participants included men and women aged 15 to 60-plus years old. The study found that overall, among all respondents, propinquity, similarity, and attractiveness were mentioned only minimally whereas qualities such as trust, honesty, supportiveness, and communication were preeminent. (Source 4)
I asked some friends to comment on their conception of friends and friendship. Interestingly, propinquity, similarity, and attractiveness were not among the responses. The responses to my query for the most part jibed with the findings of the study cited above. Among the responses were terms such as: non-judgmental; can disagree without holding grudge; honest; forgiving; loyal (“is there” in time of crisis); accepts me as I am, quirks, faults and all; trust; honest; love; respect; honor; ethics; make you feel you have worth in life; supportive; helpful; empathetic; make me a better person.
You wanna be healthier, live longer? Well, then, make friends…
Most of us, if asked, would say that we enjoy talking about our lives, arguing politics, having lunch (breakfast, dinner), reminiscing about times past, working on projects, etc., with our friends. But the value of friendships goes beyond mere socializing. Among other things, friends and friendships affect our mental and physical health.
You want to improve your health, live longer? Well, then, make friends, nurture your friendships, and practice the Friendship Golden Rule: be as good a friend as you want your friends to be. According to the prestigious Mayo Clinic, good friends play a significant role in promoting your overall health and even your longevity. Adults with strong social networks have a reduced risk of experiencing such health problems as depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). Studies have even found that older adults who enjoy a rich social life are likely to live longer than their peers who do not have such a social life. (Source 5)
Neuroscientist Sarah McKay also notes that good friends are worth nurturing because friends will help you live longer. She cites a meta-analysis of 148 studies, encompassing 300,000 people studied over seven years, that found that people with strong social relationships lived longer than those with weaker social relationships. [In a meta-analysis a researcher reviews previously published studies on a topic, then analyzes the various results to identify general trends across the studies.]
Moreover, McKay posits that neuroscience provides a compelling reason as to why we should develop and nurture friendships as we age: neuroscience research shows that being socially connected protects the brain against the risk of developing dementia. She references the notion of “cognitive reserve,” a term used to describe how resilient the mind is to decline of the brain—kind of like a savings account regarding the functionality of our brain, the ability to resist mental decline and disease. Friendships feed our “cognitive reserve” in that having a healthy social life entails the mentally stimulating activities of thinking, feeling, sensing, reasoning and intuition, which build up our reserve of healthy brain cells. (Source 6)
Mental health columnist Jane Collingwood also posits that friendships are vital for a person’s well being. She notes that research findings suggest that we are overlooking the importance of friendship in the context of modern social problems such as homelessness, divorce, and obesity. Collingwood cites Tom Rath’s book, “Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford To Live Without,” which is based on a massive study of friendship. Among Rath’s salient findings were that (1) you are five times more likely to have a healthy diet if your best friend eats healthily, (2) married people say friendship is more than five times as important as physical intimacy. (Source 7)
A friend knows everything about you but still likes (loves) you…
A true friend knows everything about you but still likes (loves) you.
I end as I started: true friends are a real treasure. To paraphrase author-philosopher Elbert Hubbard, a true friend knows everything about you but still likes (loves) you. Even, and maybe especially, in these unnatural, unsettling, and scary times, we need to maintain and nourish our friendships—whether through email, telephone, social media or in person, wearing masks, and standing/sitting 6-8 feet apart and foregoing the usual abrazo (hug).
As noted in the quote at the top of this blog, our legacy should be carved in the hearts of our friends and not on tombstones. Very few people—if any—go around quoting tombstones or even know what is etched on particular tombstones.
When a friend departs this vale of tears, however, people remember the friend’s thoughtfulness; her/his sense of decency and courage in standing up for what’s right even in the face of political, financial, etc., risk; his/her generosity and empathy for those not as materially fortunate as him/her, etc.
But we shouldn’t wait until a friend dies to say those things. That only makes us feel good—the friend can’t hear it. We should tell our friends we like/love them and why while we’re all still among the quick, i.e., living. As Proverbs 27:9 instructs us: The heartfelt words of a friend are as sweet as perfume and incense. c/s
Copyright 2020 by Salomon Baldenegro. You can write to Sal at: firstname.lastname@example.org Image of coronavirus in the public domain. Other photos copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions, Inc.
Source 1 Tony Plohetski, Amid pandemic, a rush for wills and end-of-life documents, Austin American-Statesman, April, 3, 2020.
Source 2 Amy Danise, Consumers Panic Shopping For Life Insurance In The Face Of Coronavirus, Forbes, Mar 12, 2020.
Source 3 Sarah Rose Cavanagh, Friendship by the Numbers, Psychology Today, Dec 28, 2017.
Source 4 Christopher P. Roberts-Griffin, What Is a Good Friend: A Qualitative Analysis of Desired Friendship Qualities, Penn McNair Research Journal, Volume 3, Issue 1, Dec. 21, 2011.
Source 5 Mayo Clinic Staff, Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health, Mayo Clinic E-Newsletter,
Source 6 Sarah McKay, Why Friendship Is Great For Your Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains, http://www.mindbodygreen.com/, N.D.
Source 7 Jane Collingwood, The Importance of Friendship, PsychCentral, Mar. 18, 2019