By Helene Szabados

“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.”  -Unknown

If I have over 500 friends online, why am I so lonely?

As human beings we are naturally social creatures.  According to American journalist Gareth Cook, “…data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.”  With that thought in mind the Peaceful World Foundation hosted a breakfast conversation last Thursday on the topic of friendships and how social media plays a part in our expanding social lives.

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Following an insightful icebreaker chat we presented the first component of the topic; “What is a friend?”  After a moment of thought Heidi, PWFs Program Director, replied, “Someone who will pick up a 2am phone call when I need to talk.’’  Kate, a longtime friend of the foundation, said “Friends are a reflection of who I am, showing me the parts of myself that need discovering.”  I followed Kate with my response; “Friends are the teachers and tutors of my life’s lessons.”  Mazin, a participant from Holistic Underground, was putting a lot of thought into his answer.  I asked him to think of a two-word definition for “friend” and he said “Atman Recognition.”  He explained that Atman, a Sanskrit word meaning “self”, is the soul, higher self, or God nature in us all.  “You mean someone who really sees you for who you are” observed Heidi.  We collectively sat with this thought, contemplating Mazin’s idea of “friend”.

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The next question posed was “What values do I look for in a friendship?”  Kate replied; “Someone I can vibe with.”  I suggested that “Friends are there to share with, and what I value most about friendships is sharing the normality of life with someone.”   We followed this question with “What are my friendship ‘don’ts?”  One guest remarked that a “don’t” for her is when friendships feel forced or over planned.  Mazin offered a series of answers, explaining that his initial response was “Don’t lie to me!”, but after some thought he realized that he has friends who have lied to him and yet are still friends.  This question proved to be more difficult than it initially seemed.  I offered “Don’t misunderstand me, communication is the key.  If you are not sure what I mean just ask.”  Matt wrapped up this question’s discussion when he answered “Don’t put my life and safety in jeopardy.”  He described a friend who had become more reckless with his life as he got older, and Matt’s eventual decision to step away from the friendship over concerns for his own life.

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We finally found ourselves at the second component of the topic; “How does social media change the nature of my relationships?”  Kate explained that as a public relations professional, social media has become an essential tool for navigating the circles of her social life.  She described a Facebook forum she co-created for women to connect on topics that pertain to women called Golden Sister MOON Connection.  She remarked that the anonymity of social media creates a free space for women to share vulnerable experiences with less fear of judgment, allowing them to feel more supported.  Agreeing with Kate’s analogy of social media being a tool, I acknowledged the convenience and advantages of social media while also recognizing that it takes more than a single tool to build a whole house.

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My misgivings about social media lie not in the concept but rather in the dependencies we have created on these tools.  We seem to have lost our ability to casually talk face to face.  Heidi said “I only have 148 friends on Facebook and I have sat and had a cup of coffee with every last one of them more than once.”  She spoke on the overuse of social media and how unrealistic it is to have over 5,000 “friends.”  She then posed the question; “Do I have time and energy to maintain real friendships if I have so many ‘friends’ to tend to on the internet?”

Our social structures are continually expanding, with ever more outlets for connection.  In all of these modes of communication, however, we must not lose the one natural connection that we all have; the human connection.  The human connection cannot be electronically replicated because it contains authenticity and growth.  Although technology can expand the boundaries of our social structures, it cannot replace our social structures.  When was the last time you sifted through your friend list on Facebook?

Do you really know all of the people who claim to know you?

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We want to give a warm thank you to Holistic Underground for their continuing participation.  Also, a friendly reminder that breakfast conversations are free and come with a complimentary breakfast!  Please drop in any Thursday morning, 9:15am at The Rx Café in the Presidio in San Francisco, to connect with people about topics that matter.