The power of friendship.

Tomorrow is International Day of Friendship which was created over a decade ago by the United Nations to underline the critical importance of friendship to human well-being and to society.

As the UN stated when the day was established our world is a complicated place, but it is a place where friendship is probably more important than ever. The idea of having a day to celebrate friends originated from Hallmark (the card folks) in 1919 and was intended to be a day for people to celebrate their friendship by sending each other cards. But by 1940 it died out completely.

It wasn’t until 2011, that the United Nations officially recognised 30th July as International Friendship Day, even though many countries celebrate on the first Sunday of August.

According to the International Friendship Day declaration, people are invited to “observe this day in an appropriate manner, in accordance with the culture and other appropriate circumstances or customs of their local, national and regional communities, including through education and public awareness-raising activities.”

Friendship makes a real difference to people. The United Nations underlines that amongst other things that friendship enhances emotional resilience helping people through good and bad times. Research has shown that even spending just 10 minutes with friends can boost your ability to solve problems and your brainpower. And it helps you sleep and makes you healthier.

Regardless of all the research most of us know that having a network of friends brings real benefit to us. I sometimes wonder with all our focus on social media whether our virtual networks evidence the same depth of friendship that our physical ones do. That said I know that during Covid technology rescued, fostered, and encouraged friendships.

As you age and grow older it can become harder to maintain friendships. This can be the case for lots of reasons, whether due to moving to s new location at key stages of older age and losing networks you had built up or not being able to be as involved in the community and socialising less frequently perhaps because of ill health or even affordability.

Friendship has to be worked at and I remember speaking to residents in a care home some years ago who had become low in mood because though their families visited they had over time lost touch with friends in the community who after some time had stopped visiting. The home manager took it upon herself to undertake a ‘friend’s audit’ during which she discovered who people were describing as ‘missing friends’ and she had colleagues purposefully and over time re-created connections and the benefit to individuals was visible to see. They always had an open door to the community but now the community was much better at supporting those who had chosen the care home to be their place of residence.

I’ve written before about the impact of loneliness in our communities and even in your own home people can over time become isolated through loss of contact with friends. Good social care used to be as much about enabling friends to be in touch, connecting people in ‘social ways’ than just personal care needs. Friendship and its maintenance has tremendous preventative health benefits if only we resourced and prioritised it adequately.

The poet Jackie Kay wrote these words about friendship over a decade ago.

“The Scottish poetry Library asked me to pick a favourite Burns poem and write my own version. A tall order! A big ask. I decided to go for a short poem. I love John Anderson my Jo-in two perfect wee stanzas it tells the story of a lifetime’s marriage and even imagines a kind of togetherness in death…

But I wanted to write a poem that celebrated friendship; so many poems celebrate romantic relationships. So I took the idea of a friendship over the course of a lifetime, imagining that we’d been friends as girls, Ali and I, and that we still will be friends as old women. I couldn’t quite manage the two short stanzas, so I went for three instead! I pronounced fiere -feeree, not fear; the latter is the correct pronunciation but I liked the ee ending since it afforded me more rhymes, and also sounds more like friend to me, dearie fiere. But I was also thinking about what makes us who we are, and that if it weren’t for the friends that we meet along the road, the chance, happy meetings and the ones that feel fated, we would all be very different. Friends shape and carve your life, opening doors, alerting you to possibilities, giving you sustenance and belief. Not just a shoulder to cry on, a rock to fly off. You choose your friends. The gift of a deep friendship goes to the very heart of who you yourself are. It’s hard to imagine how you would get through any challenge, separation, bereavement, disappointment, embarrassment, without your fine fieres.’

I do hope people will give some time to think of those they have lost touch with and to try to reconnect on this International Day of Friendship. I also hope that groups and individuals in our wider community consider those in our midst who are in need of being reconnected of indeed in need of befriending.

I’d encourage you to read Jackie Kay’s poem but my own favourite friend poem is one that equally captures the truth that true friendship just creates a space that allows you to be. It’s written by the poet, physician and scientist Norman Kreitman who died in 2012.

Fishing With Norman MacCaig

Each time I called for him he was perfectly ready,
equipment checked and in smooth order,
pared to essentials. And I, cluttered with gadgets,
would clatter behind as he led the way downstairs.

In the boat, as befits a sedulous angler,
he was taciturn, though between essential words
he would give that courteous, gentle smile
that was his signature, before his gaze returned

to the contemplation of the water. And when
in his own good time he hooked a trout
he’d eye it dispassionately, as one whose life was spent
retrieving silver from all the elements of Scotland.

Fishing With Norman MacCaig by Norman Kreitman – Scottish Poetry Library

Donald Macaskill

Photo by Ricardas Brogys on Unsplash

Last Updated on 29th July 2023 by donald.macaskill