Several years ago, I was involved in a program with participants located around the globe. Wanting to create opportunities for connection, the group decided to form a Facebook page – a private web page on which only we could place messages, post questions, and offer ideas for one another. The problem was that one of us wasn’t on Facebook. As you might have guessed, I was that person.
Yielding to my colleagues’ pressure, I joined Facebook (much to the concern of my children!) and was suddenly asked by many Facebook users to be their “friend.” I contributed to the discussions but stopped checking the page once the program ended. So I was surprised when, on my next birthday, I received numerous “Happy Birthday!” messages from my “Facebook friends.” Wanting to express my gratitude that they had thought of me, I called each person. None of them called back.
What is this thing called a “Facebook friend” and what does it say about the value and meaning of friendship today?
We all have many levels of friendship: the expanse of people at each level becomes increasingly narrow to form a sort of pyramid of friendship. At the bottom, we have lots of “friends” we greet as we pass them in the hallways at work or in our neighborhood. Many people call them “acquaintances,” rather than “friends.” We have fewer “friends” we enjoy spending time with and with whom we will talk about certain things in our lives. One level up from that, there’s a group we can count on to take us to the airport, feed our cat when we’re away and share many of our concerns with. At the very top are the few people – our “peeps” as one of my friends calls them – who will sit with us at the hospital when our spouse has surgery, keep our confidences, help us sort out our real dilemmas until one o’clock in the morning, and remember when we have a big event and call to wish us good luck.
Research shows that people who have friends feel happier and more fulfilled. Those with friends live healthier and longer lives.
I doubt the studies were referring to “Facebook friends.”
And yet, through the course of medical training and career, many of us let our friendships erode as we become buried in charts, journals and administrative tasks. We let this truly important part of our lives slip through our fingertips.
Consider your own friendship pyramid. Starting from the top, make a plan to contact each one of your “peeps.” Let them know what’s happening with you and find out how they are. That simple connection, all by itself, may enrich your life immeasurably. After that, contact those on your next level. Take time to reach out to those people who mean the most to you. You know – those people we call friends.