A Call for an International and Cross-cultural Institute on Friendshipology 架起友谊桥梁


I am a founding member of The 1990 Institute, and I am an active member of the US-China People’s Friendship Association, South Bay Chapter. During a special workshop, To Promote Friendship (International Child Art Foundation’s World Children’s Festival, in Washington DC, the United States,
during the week of July 4th in 2015), my colleagues and I came up with the idea of having a group of international students compose a Declaration of Interdependence and sketch out a plan for an “Ideal International Institute on Friendshipology.” 2015年7月,国际儿童艺术基金会在华盛顿举办了世界儿童节庆典活动。期间,我参加了一个以促进友谊为主题的研讨会。在会上,我和同事受到启发,决定建立一个增进学生友谊、促进文化交流的国际学院。

I am passionate about the idea of studying friendship, about how to initiate, nurture and sustain what I simply call “good feelings.” My passion comes from seeing the world’s chaos caused mainly by people who do not get along, and by people who have not learned the spirit and the art and science in building harmonious relationships — “The Necessary Lubricant For All Human Activities In This World.”

Friendship has largely been left to happenstance, much like environmental issues 40 years ago. Environmental issues were not taken seriously, nor studied globally and holistically, until prominent schools on the environment were established. It’s time to start focusing on friendshipology — now!

On important social issues that relate to the nurturing of children’s development, I always share my concerns with my women friends first. It was a pleasure, and an honor, for me to become friends with the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF)’s former leaders, including Gu Xiulian, Feng Cui,
Zou Xiaoqiao and Cui Linlin, after they attended the San Francisco forum, entitled Women, Leadership and Sustainable Development, in 2000. I organized that forum on as a board member of The 1990 Institute. The above-mentioned women, with Sarah Randt, wife of former US Ambassador to China, Clark T. Randt, heartily supported my proposal to install an International Children’s Mural Painting Park at China National Children’s Center (CNCC) in Beijing. The murals will focus on both the environment and friendship. Leaders (under Cong Zhongxiao) at CNCC have since made the
International Children’s Mural Painting Festival an annual activity. I feel so rewarded by our spirited collaboration.

Now, on this seemingly “naive” — not really that naive — idea about forming a cross-cultural institute on friendshipology, I again want to present the challenge to my ACWF and CNCC friends, and to the readers of Women of China English Monthly from around the world. I hope you can offer good ideas, useful contacts generous resources and even your personal efforts to make this “naive idea” a reality — wherever and however. It is so important that the study be internationally and cross-culturally focused, since we today are so bonded that we simply cannot afford to ignore one another. Of course, implementation may need to be staged in phases.

Friendshipology simply refers to the study of friendship. It can involve many cross-disciplines, including history, religion, culture, sociology, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, neurology and even physiology — the studying of facial expressions and body postures. There is so much knowledge and data to be gathered, but today’s computer technology, with relevant algorithms, can help us effectively extract essentials from big data. Beyond gathering knowledge, our challenge is to search for solutions, methodologies and exercises, which will transform our knowledge into goals, practices, habits and our normal behavior.

During the last two years, I have read a lot about empathy, social-emotional intelligence, gratefulness and happiness — all important factors in initiating, nurturing and sustaining friendship.

The following scientists and educators have impressed me: — Professor Jamil Zaki, Director of Stanford University’s Neuroscience Lab on Empathy — Choosing, Harnessing, then Making Choices;
— Laura Delizonna, whose Wisdom Lab at Stanford University (which is aimed at transforming cultures through mindfulness) borrows some ideas from Thich Nhat Hanh, a very popular Zen Buddhist Monk; and
— Anabel Jensen, Karen Stone McGown and Susan Stillman, who established Six Seconds – Know/Choose/Give – Emotional Intelligence Network, and who have conducted workshops around the world, including in Hangzhou, in China. Six Seconds is affiliated with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

Two of the top high schools in the US — Gunn High, in Palo Alto, and Phillips Academy, in Andover and lead by instructor Ronen Habib and Tang Institute fellow Andy Housiaux — have established special training programs on emotional intelligence and empathy and balance philosophies for their school communities.

Ashoka Foundation’s Start Empathy Initiative is also noteworthy. It now has classrooms around the world. Dr. Kerry Howells’ Gratitude in Education at Mind & Its Potential binds thanking with thinking.

Significant encouragement came from reading Harvard Professor Rudolph Tanzi’s Super Brain Theory, which basically suggested we can train our brains to think positively through practice.

Another encouraging discovery was Eboo Patel’s Interfaith Youth Core, or working toward inclusivity by breaking the barriers of religious divisions. His writings and talks have been amazingly effective and inspirational. Indeed, the ultimate purpose for an Ideal International Institute on Friendshipology is to seek ways to affect people with different backgrounds, so they relate to others with “good feelings” under all circumstances.

As a retired, 84-year-old architect, I personally have no expertise in the creation of a new think-tank-research center, but I am absolutely convinced that it should be done. It can be done. It will be done, by inspired, creative and dedicated people, from various regions of this world
— and possibly led by women!