By Billy Lee – Nov. 2019

I truly believe that much of world’s chaos is caused by our lack of knowledge on how to build FRIENDSHIP or HARMONIOUS RELATIONSHIPS – “The Necessary Lubricant For All Human Activities”. For quite a few years, I have been urging : “ FRIENDSHIP should no longer be taken for granted “ and “ It’s time to focus on the creation of an Ideal International Cross-cultural Institute on Friendshipology !”

When questioned what are the most important ingredients necessary to start such a project, the obvious answer was “ A “- Generous monetary support and “ B “- Competent Individual(s) able to lead such a project.”

Early 2016, I started to test my idea with Prof. Ronald Egan, Director of Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford University. Dr. Egan’s instant reaction was that Friendshipology wasn’t quite the right word I should use. Indeed, another friend also told me that it sounded too much like Scientology. But since no one offered me a more suitable alternative, I decided that I should for now stick with Friendshipology as it has indeed provoked comments and deeper thoughts. Dr. Egan recommended that I should get in touch with Prof. Jean Oi who was recently appointed Director of Stanford Center at Peking University in Beijing. “ She may be interested in new cross-cultural projects” he said. He generously allowed me to mention his name and promptly provided me Prof. Oi’s email address.

Prof. Oi knew that I was an active board member of The 1990 Institute. She and her deputy, Jennifer Choo met with me several weeks later after her return from Beijing. While I was repeating non-stop the urgency of my observations, Oi abruptly but politely put her hand on my wrist and said : “ Mr. Lee, may I call you Billy. Since I have another meeting to attend in fifteen minutes, may I quickly summarize my response to your Dream. I like your passion and vision, but you need to start with a concrete project” I quickly held her hand and asked, “ Can we do a meaningful project via Stanford Center in Peking University ?”. She asked if I could help in fundraising. I promised 200% effort but no absolute guarantee of success. Prof. Oi promised to mail me a reply in two weeks. Deputy Director Jennifer Choo smiled. We all shook hands then parted.

Indeed, in two weeks, Prof. Oi replied favorably and provided examples of earlier joint projects with Peking University in varying disciplines and scopes. Oi was proud of the fact that her Stanford Center could count on full cooperation from each of the seven schools at Stanford. Deputy Jennifer Choo already figured out the next step. She offered to introduce me to Prof. Jeanne Tsai, Director of Culture and Emotion Lab at Stanford’s Psychology Department. Tsai seemed to be the perfect leader to coordinate a suitable “Concrete Project” via Stanford Center at Peking University that will eventually lead to the Birth of an Ideal Cross-cultural Institute on Friendshipology.

Weeks later, after several exploratory meetings, Prof. Jeanne Tsai with assistance from Mr. Yang Qu and Elizabeth Blevins presented a draft proposal titled : The Role of Emotional Values and Expression in the Development of Cross-Cultural Friendships in the US and China. This proposal aimed to (1) study the role of emotion in the development of cross-cultura friendships and (2) develop an intervention based on these findings. The 3-Year experiment will involve simultaneously 120 Chinese students studying at Stanford and 120 Western students at Peking U.. and functional MRI will be used to examine the neural mechanisms underlying the psychological ( affective, social, cognitive ) processes when individuals make quick or unconscious decisions. Total Budget for this 3-year Project was estimated to be US$ One million and 50 thousand.

I was truly impressed and delighted. My only additional suggestion was to add another $50 thousand to cover a global submit at either Stanford or Beijing near the end of the project to invite international experts to evaluate together and comment on this project and identify what needs to be further researched globally.

With the Project Proposal and Budget determined, Prof. Jean Oi invited two senior members from SUDO (Stanford University Development Office) to meet with us to discuss fund raising ideas. Mr. Yang Qu from Jeanne Tsai’s Lab first presented the Project and made himself available to answer any questions. When asked how I can help in fund raising, I presented a two-page list of friends whom I planned to contact – starting with a few “Potential Mega Donors“ followed by those who may donate collectively.

I was extremely disappointed when the gentleman from SUDO looked at me and said, “ I am so sorry. You have a good list but you are herewith advised not to approach your “Mega Donors”, since Stanford already knows these people and we have them targeted for much larger projects.” He turned around towards Prof. Jean Oi and asked about some other projects FSI ( I think Stanford University Freeman Spogli Institute is the larger umbrella over Stanford Center at Peking .) was pursuing.

After the meeting ended, Prof. Jean Oi very sincerely apologized to me and explained that Stanford Center could not at this time sponsor our project, however she will be more than happy to lend us the use of their Stanford Center facilities at Peking University if we can find an alternative sponsor.

Prof Jeanne Tsai was very resourceful and well connected internationally. She suggested that we work thru Stanford’s Humanities Department. In a very short time she arranged a possible joint venture with Peking U’s Psychology Department. Knowing that many potential contributors look for immediate relevancy or immediate benefits from the research project, she wisely modified her proposal to make it feel more relevant. In her new proposal, she added photos comparing the wide smile of Vice President Joe Biden with that of then China’s Vice President Xi Jinping – in analyzing values of Human Emotions in Cross-cultural Friendships.

Again, we met with another officer from SUDO- this time one managing Humanities Projects. This gentleman told us that our project was not considered “Large”, yet it was larger than the normal research projects on Humanities. He advised that we reorganize and split it into three separate phases and seek funding one phase at a time. He also examined my list of potential donors and asked who were those friends beside the potential “Mega donors”. He also informed us that Stanford Admissions policy will not allow us to approach parents whose kids are about to apply for college admissions. This rule pretty much wiped out the usefulness of my prepared donors list.

The Project fizzled near Oct. 2017, but my Dream, Conviction, & Hope remain. Had coffee last Tuesday with my dear friend, Marsha Vande Berg, a fellow Board Member at The 1990 Institute. She encouraged me to tell my story to more of my friends and keep the IDEA alive.