Meaning Of Friendship

April 2013 – by Billy Lee

Having been appointed Membership Director of the USCPFA-South Bay Chapter last March (2012), I began to ask myself more seriously “Why the need of Friendship and Friends, what is really the meaning of Friendship – Person to Person and People to People? What sparks Friendship? What nurtures Friendship? What are the causes for Lack of Interest, Irritations or Failures?

I have spent time to do some reading and googling on this subject and of course reflect on my own life the many different relationships with people. Having immigrated to the U.S. from China at age 15, Cross-cultural Relationship and Friendship is naturally most relevant to me.

From childhood days in China, I was taught by my parents: Dzai Jia Kao Fu Mo, Tsu Wai Kao Pon Yu – At home you rely on your Parents. Away, you Rely on Friends. I have discovered that it is not just for practical considerations but more importantly for MEANING in LIFE.  I now believe that TRUE FRIENDSHIP should be our STRIVE, as important as Love, Education, Environment, and Innovation – too important to leave it to CHANCE and HAPPENSTANCE!

I started to search for definitions of Friends and Friendship. Webster dictionary offered the following; A Friend: 1) One attached by Affection and or Esteem, 2) One not hostile, 3) a favored person. Oxford dictionary on Friendship: Relationship between Friends. These definitions are almost too obvious and not especially enlightening.

What I read about True Friendship was more telling! True Friends: Are there for you no matter what / Don’t lie to you / Keep their promises / Don’t stick you from the back/ Kind and Caring towards you / Enjoyable being together / Accept each other as is /  Loyal and Faithful / Someone you trust and willing to share your inner feelings with.

A few HUMOROUS ones were:  Friends you actually call up to do stuff with / Can borrow $5 and  not to have to pay back / Wow ! okay to fart in front of . And yes on Different types of Friends: Sincere F.-  look you in the eyes / Listening F. –quietly attentive / Big Mouth F. – talking incessantly about everybody and everything / Wise F. – know when to keep quiet or move away for a moment./ Annual  F.- only connect once every year / Interest seeking F.- always asking for something / Magnet F. – bring you along everywhere / Suspicious – always worrying about  being cheated / Neurotic – asks 500 times if you are still friends / Daydream F.- always happily floating in air /  Virtual or Cyber F. – so close yet untouchable / Banker F.- always willing to bail you out when you have financial needs / Tight-fist F. – opposite of the above / Exclusive F. – Don’t want you to have other friends / Popular F. – too busy to engage you much of the time /  Protective F.- protect you physically and your good  reputation /  Pessimistic F.- Can some times make you feel depressed / Comfortable F. – comes to your house, lie on your sofa, put feet on the coffee table, turn on the TV, and doses to sleep / Straightly Honest F.-  will sometimes yell at you, “ For God’s sake, Billy ! Use your head!” / Imposing F,- You must think and do what he thinks is Right and what he wants you to do. Yes, I have all these different types of Friends!  It’s a Rich World I live in!

Most of us believe that we know about Friends and Friendship on a Person to Person level. International and Cross-cultural, People to People, relationships puzzled me a bit. Is it about two groups of people from different countries with different cultural back-grounds wanting to better understand each other and befriend one another? It is a wonderful concept, but is there actual emotional connections that can be deeply felt between groups of people and result in True Bonding? I have given this some thought and from my limited experience I can at least feel certain that People to People’s Friendship efforts can definitely promote more Person to Person relationships, and in reverse the latter can validate and reinforce the former idea.

I learned that President Dwight D Eisenhower initiated People to People International (PTPI) with the purpose to enhance international understanding and friendship through education, culture, and humanitarian activities- by involving the exchange of ideas and experiences directly among peoples of different countries and diverse cultures. Tolerance and mutual understanding were its central themes. A non-government and non profit organization, respecting universal values and aspirations., enabling international youth to value long-term friendship and understanding, believing that individuals can often be more effective than governments in promoting human relationships and world peace, advocating more tolerance and accepting of differences, trusting people’s basic goodness and intelligence, it strives for Peace thru Friendship, Understanding, and Bonding.

Many similar organizations were formed subsequently like Public Diplomacy etc. It is most unfortunate that the word Diplomacy has been given a self-serving connotation today. The word Soft Power for example has also started to ignite more fear in ordinary people by suspicious cynics. Indeed, the world is getting more and more connected. Countries and people are getting more and more inter-dependent. I may be naïve, but I strongly believe in Eisenhower’s non-sibi (not for self ) approach. Once our focus is placed on negative thinking, there will be no end to Tic for Tac, then Tac for Tic. etc. etc. There will never be any long-term satisfactory solutions for World Peace subsequently.

Building Relationship with People from Different Cultures, an article by Marya Axner published in Kansas University’s The Community Tool Box, offered some valuable input I found thru Googling.  “We must come together and solve problems that we have in common. Trusting Relationships are the glue that hold people together as they surely need each other’s support. Building Relationships with people from different cultures is key to achieving most significant goals. To become aware of one’s own culture is a first step in learning about other people’s culture. “so stated the author. Why examine your own identities and culture? Learn what influenced your own views on others and learn how others view you in reverse. How to build relationships with people from other cultures?  Realize the difference between learning about others from indeed building relationships. Several important steps suggested were: Make a conscious decision to establish friendship with people from other cultures. Put yourself into situations where you can meet them. Restrain your biases about those who are different. Ask them to tell you their cultures and histories. Listen to their stories and the way their stories are told. Notice differences in communication styles and value emphasis. Identify their positive aspects first. Learn how to be their ally. In summary, the article emphasized that Friendship is our connection to each other and meaning in life. Caring for each other brings us together and motivates us to establish coalitions to solve problems affecting us all together.

One interesting book I discovered from the local library was” The Art of Friendship ‘by Christine Leefeldt & Ernest Callenbach – published as early as 1979.  My Architectural Profession background makes me especially interested in the Art of Creating, the smart Methodologies, and the magic Results. The research covered many intimate life stories, and it stressed that Friendship is indeed a crucial factor in people’s Emotional Health and Happiness. One chapter on Friendship and Power was not totally convincing to me, however. It suggested that mixing profession or business with friendship, like Employer–Employee and Teacher-Student, is unwise because they are inherently divisive. I find that among my best friends in life are my earlier employees, employers, students and/or teachers. I think the issue is not positions or status but rather attitudes and behaviors. But of course the authors were saying that many of us do get carried away by Power and Prestige, thus sometimes forget about Mutual Respect and Caring.

In the chapter, Resolving Conflicts in Friendship, I learned about Timing and Discreet-ness, Open self-revelations vs Need of privacy by certain people, Blunt honesty vs Kind Explanations, Right and Wrong vs. some Compromise but just and fair. Equal status or perfect willingness to lead or follow in Cooperation. The most powerful and most needed ingredient is ATTENTIVENESS, and SYMPATHY could be just your Wordless Presence, a Quick Hug or Pat on the Back, or an Understanding Compassionate look.

The last three chapters inspired me most:  Old Friends and New, Crossing the Barriers, and Creative Friendship.  Old friends appreciate your strength and accept your weaknesses. New Friends introduce new stimuli and wider perspectives. Crossing the Barriers ( Age, Gender, Social-Economic, Educational, Political, and Religious, ) require open-mindedness, tolerance, and flexibility, Globalization makes it even more urgent today How to be creative in maintaining old friends, new friends, provincial or foreign friends is definitely an Art. Creating moments of shared joy and pleasure with impact; offering sympathy, comfort, or material help; giving as well as receiving to and from each other etc. are all Friendship-making skills. But we need to improve our Friendship-making skills in Intellectual as well as Emotional spheres with Honesty and Sensitivity. We know it’s more blessed to Give than to Receive always, but both Gratification (from giving) and Feeling Grateful (from receiving) provide indescribable Joy and Happiness.

One aspect most important in Creative Friendship urged us to be Proactive in Cultivating Friendship. The challenge however still lies often with our lack of Trust due to lack of interacting experience and the Fears promoted by expert Cynics and by people earnestly but exclusively focusing on  security threats. The author’s concluding statement was, “We owe it to ourselves and to our society to combat this Negativism about Human Conditions.  Friendship cannot exist without Trust. Vital interchanges of Friendship can provide us with networks of secure, enlivening, resilient relationships, and mobilize our Human Potential for Warmth, Concern, and Mutual Support, without which we cannot thrive.”

From my own life experience, I have learned not to judge people too quickly, not to stereotype people based on limited or out-of-date information, avoid uncalled-for criticisms or demeaning comments, stop proving you are superior by snide and snotty jokes which are not really humorous to others. Admit your own mistakes and apologize for having caused hurt or harmed other’s self esteem. Be a True Friend to others without demanding equal reciprocation. Understand other’s aspirations and needs. Do whatever you can to help. Appreciate, Enjoy, and Promote Trust.

I am personally 100% committed to the idea of building and promoting Cross-culture Friendship– Person to Person and People to People. Hoping to connect the children from U.S. and China twelve years ago , for example, I initiated the C2C, C2C, ( Children to Children, Connecting 2 Countries ) Magic Moments Exchanges, via The 1990 Institute – in collaboration with All China Women’s Federation , China National Children’s Center, and  China’s Environmental Protection Ministry. Promoting Cross-cultural Friendship among Children, and promoting Art simultaneously with Environment, we ultimately persuaded China National Children’s Center to inaugurate an International Children’s Mural Painting Park in their beautiful Beijing Campus. The Art is always related to Environmental Concerns, and the Annual Festival always involves children from different countries. The immediate effect on all involved – children as well as adults – is validated by their apparent joy and enthusiasm. The long-term effects may actually be more meaningful and more remarkable. The celebrations also involve government leaders representing the children’s countries. We hope that people’s intrinsic needs, feelings and priorities will ultimately affect state and international policies.

To combat CYNICISM, FEAR, and DISTRUST, we must build TRUST and ENGAGE-MENT with diligence, determination, creativity, and commitment. A most encouraging message is indeed what I heard from watching KQED’s special presentation by a Harvard Professor in Neuro-Psychology.  Professor Rudy Tanzi was introducing his SUPER-BRAIN THEORY to the vast TV audience. His main point was that each one of us should and in fact has the ability to control our own Brain instead of letting it control us emotionally and physically. A person can at will lead the brain to focus on happy positive issues, conditions, or ideas and practice it repeatedly. The brain subsequently produces chemical effects that can help the person reduce anxiety and feel healthy and optimistic thus more capable in engaging others. Yes we are better persons when we are not under stress. Why not try this “Think kind and Be kind, Feel good and Be good” practice, and let Friendship THRIVE for a BETTER WORLD ? !