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The Power of Friendship

“Thus nature has no love for solitude, and always leans, as it were, on some support; and the sweetest support is found in the most intimate friendship.”
– Cicero

Did you know that social isolation can be as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day?

This week, we’re going to talk friendship and the vital role it plays in anchoring your personal resilience!  Social connection is hugely important to your resilience – friends help you over the toughest hurdles of your life, and instill in you a sense of belonging. We all have a cast of characters in our lives: from acquaintances and running partners to best friends, and you may even take these people for granted. But the presence of others in our lives help us to feel that we are part of a community. We humans are social creatures, and introverts and extroverts alike need to bond with others simply to feel grounded.

It has been said that introverts will typically seek fewer and deeper friendships, while extroverts take refuge in a crowd, but that’s an oversimplification.  Whether you’re an introvert of an extrovert, your attitudes and approaches to friendship will go through many stages throughout your life.

“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.”

-Anais Nin

When people are asked what pleasures contribute most to happiness, the overwhelming majority rate love, intimacy and social affiliation above wealth or fame, even above physical health. The importance of this particular pleasure becomes clear when you look at what loneliness can do to you. Social disconnect has the same negative health effects as high blood pressure, lack of exercise and obesity.

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

As we’ll be discussing in the article next week, stress and other negative emotions may in fact be the root of nearly all illness. Bottling negativity inside can have disastrous health effects, and it’s communication with friends that really helps get these emotions out. Even if you’re not discussing your problems, friendship helps you. You’re much more likely to laugh with your friends, and laughter is one of the best stress-busters there is. It’s impossible to feel down when you’re laughing!

A single rose can be my garden… a single friend, my world.
– Leo Buscaglia

Exclusion bites – in a study published in Science magazine, scientists had subjects play a simple ball game with peers, in which one was ultimately left out of the game. An analysis of the victim’s brain activity proved that social exclusion literally hurts! It stimulated the same parts of the brain as physical pain. When we look at this in its evolutionary context, it makes sense – humans in a tribe would need to get along with others for the protection it brings, and to ensure the cooperation so necessary for survival. In order to carry on, it is better to stand together than to stand alone.

Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.
– Aristotle

Teenagers feel the need for social connectedness much more strongly. In their developing brains, social integration is richly rewarded. An article in National Geographic on the teenage brain had the following points on reasons why people skills are so important:  “Socially savvy rats or monkeys … generally get the best nesting areas or territories, the most food and water, more allies, and more sex with better and fitter mates. And no species is more intricately and deeply social than humans are.

“This supremely human characteristic makes peer relations not a sideshow but the main show. Some brain-scan studies, in fact, suggest that our brains react to peer exclusion much as they respond to threats to physical health or food supply. At a neural level, in other words, we perceive social rejection as a threat to existence.”

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

– Albert Schweitzer

Something that rings true across popular culture is the need to find that we are not alone – whether it’s in singing in the shower or turning your pillow over to the cold side, it gives people a sense of satisfaction to know that there are others out there like them. There’s a plethora of modern websites devoted to “things we all do” – and this has been a factor driving comedy since it began. Anyone recall the first thirty seconds or so of Seinfeld shows, in which Jerry Seinfeld would perform stand – up, often along the lines of, “You know this thing we all do? What is it with that?” or “This thing we all wonder … why is this like that?” It is these connections between people that create bonds. Whether it’s humourous, or a more serious connection, the world seems much more friendly when we realize we have things in common with others.

In the end, friendship is hard to define. Men, even married ones, desperately need to “get out with the guys” (even if that’s with just one other guy at a time).  Women need time with “the girls” too. While we all need friendships, the kind of friendships we need varies from person to person.  Some people feel a great need to be close to children.  Some people couldn’t imagine life without an animal “friend”.

It takes a long time to grow an old friend.
– John Leonard

I’m sure you still have some questions – what kind of social connection do I need to be healthy? How do I get it?

I’ll let journalist Valerie Frankel answer the first. In Self magazine, she identifies the four types of friends that you need to be happy: “Psychologists have long described four major types of friendship 1) The acquaintance, someone you’d chat with on the street of at a local cafe, who gives you a  sense of belonging; 2) The casual friend, a ‘grab lunch’ pal who often serves a specific purpose, such as a tennis or running partner; 3) the close buddy, an intimate, trustworthy comrade you can say anything to; and 4) the lifer, who’s as deep and forever as family.”

Nothing but heaven itself is better than a friend who is really a friend.
-Plautus

How to make these kinds of connections? First of all, it’s important to take the time to develop the friendships you already have. Try asking someone you know out to lunch, or calling up an old friend. Take the time to maintain the bonds that you already have. If you’re looking to make new connections, join a club or take a class  according to your interests. Try online social networks, and make sure to attend after-work functions. Participate in your child’s school. Most of all: don’t be afraid to make the first move! Everyone could use another friend.

Now, take action, cement your best relationships and build some new ones!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Building Community Resilience: Some Lessons and Practical Tips

See the previous post to get the context of all this…

LESSON 1: TAKE THE INITIATIVE

So how did this little adventure in building community resilience come about?  Well, the idea was mine, actually.  I had talked about it to a couple of people three months ago and they were going to get on it and handle the details.  “Great!” I thought.  I’m an idea guy… don’t have the head for details.  

Well guess what?  Those two people dropped the ball, daily life took over and the whole thing was forgotten.  So finally I went back to them and reignited the concept of the neighborhood potluck, this time putting myself in charge of going door to door to assess interest and invite people.  One of the others agreed to coordinate the menu. 

Lesson: If you really want something done, take the initiative and do it!  If you wait for others to do it, you could be waiting a while!

LESSON 2:  HAVE A “PLAN B”



When I started going door to door to find out if there was enough interest to pull this off, we didn’t have a firm date for the event.  Heck, we didn’t even have a place to hold it!  


Thankfully, of the three possible dates we were proposing, it became very clear within days that one of them had nearly unanimous support.  Even better, one couple graciously volunteered their place to hold the party.  “Wow,” I thought, “this has been so easy!”  


Well, I guess I forgot to knock wood, because with the event scheduled for 4pm on Saturday, I got an email from our hosts at 9am on Friday morning saying one of their kids had been up all night with a fever and some kind of flu.  So they had to back out.  “Do you have a Plan B?” they asked.   


After a little thought, I realized that postponing was not a viable option – once you lose momentum in something like this, you’re doomed.  And one of the joys of being an expert in emergency management and disaster planning is that I spend lots of time thinking about “Plan B” in a lot of different contexts 😉


Fortunately, I was able to sell my better half on my version of Plan B for the venue – our place!  Thank-you so much, my dearest love!  Personally I was petrified of hosting the event because I knew we had a lot of cleaning up to do.  I was very pleasantly surprised, though, when it only took about 90 minutes to clean the place, about 75 minutes to prepare our part of the potluck’s food and, miracle of miracles, just 10 minutes to clean up after everyone left.


Lesson: You remember Murphy, the guy who came up with Murphy’s Law?  Well this guy’s still on the loose, and as long as that’s the case, you’ll need a Plan B.

LESSON 3: EXPECT ADVERSITY…


So by Friday at noon, I had this feeling of being on top of the situation again – Plan B was in effect and all would be well.  Damn, forgot to knock wood again…

Friday evening just before supper, I’m on the phone with the couple who could no longer host the event when one of the other neighbors comes to the door.  After I get off the phone, my wife says, “Did you know the party is canceled?”   “WHAT?!” I answered.  “Who said that?”


Turns out this well-meaning neighbor had misunderstood something he’d heard in the street from somebody else.  Then he decided, unencumbered by facts and information as he was, to spread the news.  S#*t.  More damage to undo… another fire to put out.  


All day Saturday I had this sinking feeling that the whole thing – three weeks of planning – could unravel really fast, despite my best efforts at damage control.  It’s tough because you have to invest in your event emotionally so that others will too, and yet you have to detach yourself from the outcome.  Whether it flies or crashes ultimately depends on everyone else, not just you.


The emotional low point was 4:05 pm, five minutes past the start time, and no one had arrived!  “Well,” I thought, “at least we’ll have a really clean house.”  Fortunately, they all piled in over the 15 minutes that followed.  It’s a very diverse group of people, ranging in age from 9 months to 90 years and including various nationalities and spiritual viewpoints. 





BOTTOM LINE:


Building community resilience is a fantastic investment of your time and energy!  It’s really easy to get trapped in the day-to-day and forget other people exist.  Don’t let that happen to you. 


Once you decide to take action, remember these three lessons:


1. Take the initiative, because if you don’t, no one else is likely to


2. Expect adversity and keep moving forward anyway


3. Have a Plan B in your back pocket




Strong relationships give rise to strong communities, and strong communities are the bedrock of a strong society.  As the saying goes, “think globally, act locally”.  


My personal thanks to all those who made this particular adventure in building community resilience a great success!

Oh, almost forgot.  The participants had the next event planned before the night was out!


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Time to Make Your COMMUNITY More Resilient?

So far, this blog has been heavily devoted to individual resilience, to helping you become mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually stronger, more flexible and more adaptable.  And all that’s vital, of course.  However, resilience goes a long way beyond your own mind and body.

You see, resilience is also a team sport – if you want to make yourself more resilient, you also need to think about making those around you more resilient too.  And that doesn’t just mean teaching them yoga or nutrition or EFT.  It means helping them to build genuine community.  

As the old adage says, “United we stand; divided we fall.”  Ultimately, you’re only as strong as your family, your community and your society.  

AN ADVENTURE IN BUILDING COMMUNITY RESILIENCE:

Over that last couple of week’s I’ve been through an extraordinary adventure in building community.  In our neighborhood, most people know their neighbors by name, but they really don’t know much about them.  They’re barely acquaintances and don’t have much to do with each other, with some exceptions, of course.

That all changed last night, and in just three hours.  In three hours, many new friendships were built, unfounded suspicions and petty dislikes overcome, and a lot of trust was built.  This was a defining moment that will continue to affect all the participants for a long while to come.  This was the catalyst for transforming a group of relative strangers into a community.  What was this amazing event?  It was….


…a very simple potluck supper!  Sometimes the humblest methods have the greatest effects.  


One of the great traps of modern civilization is what one expert called “living in parallel”.  In other words, we can live beside each other, go to work on the same bus, train, subway or drive the same road, work in adjacent buildings, and yet never have any real contact with each other.


In reality, the practices of individual resilience will overcome most of your challenges in life.  For the other 30-40% of your challenges, though, the solutions will come through other people.  


So if you want to be resilient, build strong relationships with your neighbors.  That it turn will build a strong community, and strong communities are the bedrock of your country. 

Next time, I’ll tell you a bit about how I pulled this off and the lessons in it for all of us.


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Resilience Tip: Why you need to build your network

One of the most consistent findings in studies of various resilience indicators (such as longevity, health, emotional balance, etc.) is that people with healthy and numerous social relationships are at the top of the range… every time.

Ancient traditions of health maintenance and spiritual life were built on the deep insight that all of us are interconnected with each other and the whole world in ways we’re not even consciously aware of.  Quantum physics and the latest experiments in distance healing are beginning to validate this insight.  What’s it all mean?


You are a communal being – you’re not meant to be alone or isolated!


As our Western society has evolved over the past century, driven by industrialization, urbanization and endless technological change, we’ve become more and more isolated.  Sometimes it seems that our spouse and kids are all we have, if that!  One of the symptoms of this isolation is the mushrooming of social media – facebook, myspace, twitter and more.  People are desperate to connect with other people.  It’s a deep seated existential need we have as human beings.


So what can you do?  If you want to be more resilient, help others to do the same.  Connect with new people.  Reconnect with old friends and family members.  Take some time over the next week to go out for coffee with someone you haven’t seen in a while or call them.  Nudge somebody on facebook and remind them you care.  What you give will come back to you many times over.  Resilient people have big networks of other people they care about and people who care about them in return.


You CAN be such a person.  Sharing love is not only easy, it’s fun and it’s free.  What could be better?


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger




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