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Soulful Sundays: Friends

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” ~Muhammad Ali

In the final weeks of his life, Chris McCandless, who preferred to go by his pseudonym, “Alexander Supertramp,” was completely alone. He had trekked into the Alaskan wilderness with minimal supplies in the spring of 1992 where he made camp in an old school bus that had been converted into a hunting shelter. As he lie dying from an explainable starvation, he reflected on life in his journal. His poignant last words were, “Hapiness only when shared.”

There are many justifications for solitary pursuits, but no good ones for a solitary life. We can learn the boundaries (both real and imagined) of our own strength and capabilities by flying solo. This is crucial part of honing our perspicacity and self-reliance. However, constantly sharpening a blade will make it dull. The bigger picture involves incorporating what we have learned back into our relationships with others. Using the knife, now sharp, to create shared meals.

People on their deathbeds rarely wish for more money or more influence. Instead, the two most common areas of regret are not having spent enough time with loved ones, and not having enjoyed life’s simple joys. Coming at it from both angles, one of the small but irreplaceable gems of existence is friendship.

Friendship holds a unique place in the hierarchy of human needs, as described by American psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1940s. He ranked love and connection in the middle of his ordering, but in practice it should be equivalent with food, sleep and shelter. We are social animals and incapable of living without others. In ancestral days, banishment from the tribe was a death sentence. Prolonged solitary confinement in the prison system is cruel and unusual punishment. The human psyche does not hold up in a vacuum.

People grow closer through spending physical time together. There is no digital or telegraphic substitute. The parts of our brain that make the kinds of connections that are essential for friendships are older than language itself. Being in a shared space with another human is the most challenging and (hopefully) rewarding journey we can ever embark on. Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: Secrets For Living Longer, identified a single unifying thread throughout every long-lived population that he studied—the importance of a loving community.

We are at a stage in modern advancement where the default has now become isolation. It is all too easy (and acceptable) to plug into the online matrix, to pleasantly ignore our actual neighbors, and to rarely visit our families and friends. For those among us who see this imminent threat, the answer is obvious. We must consciously elect to engage with others, even if we don’t feel like it—even if they don’t feel like it. We must hold one another accountable. Without deep and lasting human connection, we are risking not only the stability of our own minds, but the fabric of our collective existence.

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