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  • Writer's pictureSonja Kirschner

On Friendship

January 21, 2019

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King,

In 7th grade in my English class I came across Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) for the first time. I’m sure you had those school moments yourself: Generally, a little bored or even annoyed, busy with turning into an adult and coping with all the side effects which come with that, more worried about what to wear to school than anything else. But somehow those big personalities made it to my heart right away. MLK shaped one of those moments, he was THE first one who made me listen up, sit at the edge of my chair and … dream along with … “I have a dream”. Later, in Memphis, TN where I worked as an Au Pair in 1998/99 I visited the Lorraine Motel, the place of his brutal assassination and much later in 2014 and 2015 I stood in front of his memorial in Washington D.C., mouth wide open and deeply touched again by his wisdom and inspiration; you can literally sense his presence through his own quote “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

Long story short: What does MLK have to do with my thoughts about friendship?

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Can you feel the grandness, the kindness - the exceptional in this? Honestly, I struggle with this quote. It’s a huge ask. First of all, the word ‘enemy’ is a pretty strong one. I don’t really use it, I hope I have no enemies and I don’t think of anyone as my enemy. Secondly, if that is different for someone, if you feel you do have enemies, how in the world would you turn them into friends? As I said, a big ask …

But still, there is a lot of inspiration in this quote: it needs LOVE to turn things upside down or inside out. During the transition into the new year, friendship popped up as a pattern quite often. There was a call for “calendar-free” friendships, a desire to create one’s own friends in a new environment - in addition to the partner’s old friends he happily brought into the relationship from his long-lasting past in his city, the need to make more friends or just spend more and real time with them – not only on social media.

I felt the topic of friendship was always a little bit buried though - not top of mind - but when we dug a little deeper it almost always surfaced. When it comes to change and life goals first things we usually talk about is our job, our families and partnerships, the kids and how everything fits together in this busy life. Friends are often second – and that can become a problem.

Here are some concerning findings from CIGNA’s (a global health service company) 2018 national survey of 20,000 U.S. adults ages 18 years and older exploring the impact of loneliness in the United States.

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).

  • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.

  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).

  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent). - Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.

  • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.

  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.

  • Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).

Just as a side note – this is for sure not an American phenomenon, very similar findings appear all over the world – just recently the British government has even appointed a “Minister for Loneliness”!

Today, I’d like to invite you to make friendship a priority in your life. Reading through the survey results above, we should have MLK in our heart. His quote teaches us that it lies in our hands, only we can make the change and spread the love. So, take charge and make friendship a priority. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while TODAY. Check in on your friend who is home alone with a bad cold. Set this date for the long pushed out girls’ night out, join the book club you meant to join already last January. Even if you feel well taken care of by your family or partner or if you feel you belong (enough) at work – your partners, families and colleagues can’t do it all. Friends make you whole – your whole life!

Give friendship a little more love! Not to turn enemies into friends – I hope you neither don’t have any – but to enjoy togetherness and belonging and to just have fun together.

The author, Sonja Kirschner, is 40 years old, originally from Mannheim, Germany which she left 5 years ago to work and live in the New York metropolitan area. She has worked in different Human Resources roles for 15 years, all of them focusing on the development of people. Currently, she is in the process of getting her coaching certification. She has a master’s degree in Psychology and loves supporting people to reach their life goals. Please leave a comment or send a PM to connect.

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