STEPHEN LEE CONTINUES TO EXPLORE DIFFERENT CHARTS –
From: “Mindfulness Turns A Brain from Antagony to Compassion”to “Self-assessment For Personal Growth in Good Citizenship”, to adding “Four Levels of Friendship” to the above. May 2023
It occurred to me after creating the two-dimensional and four-quadrant chart in my last posting on How to Turn Fear to Compassion, that there is an interpretation for the number inside each small box of the chart.
An obvious interpretation is a score of Fear vs Compassion, ranging from -8 to +8.
Let’s explore the following definition:
Good Citizenship = Unselfishness + Understanding of the Needs of Others
Poor Citizenship = Selfishness + Suspicion of the Intention of Others
Then we can interpret the numbers in each small block of the chart as a Score of Good or Poor Citizenship. In this perspective, the words in the lower left quadrant should be revised to describe poor citizenship. The new chart is as follows.
A score of zero may be described as an Indifferent citizen. A score of 1 – 2 may be described as a citizen with Pity for others. A score of 3 – 4 as one with Sympathy, 5 – 6 as one with Empathy, and 7 – 8 as one with Compassion.
On the score of Poor Citizenship, the adjectives to describe the different levels may be Passive, Cautious, Resentful, and Antagonistic?
Citizenship Score (-8 to +8)
If a social score (from -8 to +8) is self-awarded to a person after a mindful act self-assessed with a Citizenship Score, it would be informative to self-ask how he or she would rate his or her level of Selfishness to Unselfishness, from -4 to +4. This is of course a subjective and qualitative self evaluation, but over time, the self assessment will still provide a valuable indicator of self improvement.
Then the two numbers, the social score and the self rating of Unselfishness, would be two useful statistics. They can be also visualized as statistical distributions or a statistical mean value of the person doing the self assessment or for a group of people if the data are collected for people in different groups, socially or culturally. If both the social score and the self-assessed Unselfish index for a population are plotted as a statistical distribution on top of the chart, as shown in the following chart, for two different years, the improvement would be noticeable.
This approach would also be used for comparing different groups of people over the same year of study, for example, to see if culture makes a difference.
Just realized that the ARROWS Stephen introduced in the charts are truly essential to our research Why they move in a certain direction to start with ? What triggers ? What encourages ? Why slow down, stop, or turn around.? Even turn around again ? How can that be facilitated etc. etc. etc. ?
Stephen to Billy and James:
The attached picture is my answer to Bill today about the different steps to change my own behavior from antagonistic to compassionate. I suppose there are other ways to get there
James Luceto Stephen and Billy:
Not sure that Antagonistic is the correct word in this context.
Billy to Stephen:
Your Graphic is Fabulous. You are basically a Good Person with A Good Conscience, Stephen. Some people lack a Good Conscience. Yes,how can we build Good Conscience ?
May I suggest that you illuminate more about the ARROWs you showed in your earlier chart ? Each directive arrow may represent first One’s Conscience, then Mindfulness, Reflection, and Commitment – all your words ?
Come up again with some amazing Stephen Lee graphics !
Three Friends: Bill or Billy ( an Architect ), James ( a lawyer ), and Stephen ( an Electrical Engineer ), were having fun lately – playing psychologists and seeking Truth and Meaning about COMPASSION.
Below is a report by Stephen which illustrates their recent collective FUN & CREATIVE Pursuit.
Mindfulness Turns Fear to Compassion
The following four Charts were built on ideas and works of three friends. More immediately, some of the ideas came from my friends Bill Lee and James Luce, and I simply internalized them with my personal philosophy to combine the two charts into one. This figure shows the two original charts. The upper right one came from Bill’s readings on Compassion. The lower left chart was created by James at the request of Bill.
I recognized that both charts have two axes and that if the value of the horizontal axis of one chart is rephrased to be the opposite of the value of the other horizontal axis, then both charts become connected. The same reasoning suggests that the two vertical axes can also be rephrased so that the two charts can be interpreted as a single chart. This thought results in the following chart. The horizontal axis ranges from High Feeling of Threat to You, to Low Feeling of Threat to You, and then crosses over the vertical axis to Low Feeling of Needs from You, and then to High Feeling of Needs from You.
The vertical axis ranges from High degree of Selfishness from the bottom of the chart to High degree of Unselfishness at the top of the chart. Then a color scale is painted on each little square of the chart to start from Red to represent an extreme feeling of threat and selfishness which causes the primitive reptilian brain in humans to attack out of fear and survival instinct. The color changes towards the Green color representing compassion at the upper right corner of the chart.
Then the second chart was created by adding three application cases to illustrate how Mindfulness can help a person to modify the reflex instinct of fear and survival towards the humanistic behavior is controllable by the more evolved human brain which can make reasoned decisions according to our personal values which take into account our tradeoffs between the self and others, as well as our often-flawed instinctive awareness of the intention of the other person.
The final chart adds a fourth case to the examples. It was an actual experience yesterday while traveling in an airplane.
Will Schwalbe and Chris Maxey, in my opinion, are destined to become friends. They are both likable human beings who very much wanted to be liked. They basically believed in the value of Friendship from the start and was willing to risk the full Senior Year at Yale– two nights every week- to mix with fourteen especially diverse classmates most of whom they did not know well. BZ, Berzelius Senior or Secret Society at Yale indeed brought them together, and the BZ’s Audit tradition indeed encouraged them to explore personal differences and find beauty in the other persons.
The story focused on Will (a Nerd) and Maxey (a Jock) joining BZ. Will is also Gay while Maxey became a Navy Seal. Normally that is not going to mix well. It took time to learn about one another. It took many special moments and the right atmosphere to spark connectedness and eventually intimacy. The book described their growing friendship from Bright College Year, to Twenties and Thirties, to Midlife, Forties, Fifties, Middle Fifties, Pushing Sixty, and Coda. I salute the two fellers for being honest and sincere – more importantly civil and respectful- and indeed their conscientious efforts to keep good vibes continuing. Each feller is intrinsically Loving and Lovable and each possessed amazing abilities and character. Their separate life stories are genuinely impressive notwithstanding.
I truly believe that The BZ Audit Tradition indeed challenged their quest to form Friendship with different contrasting personalities. Indeed, BZ had a reputation for emphasizing Diversity. It was the first among the Secret Societies at Yale to admit Black members. It was the first to welcome Female members. I believe I was recruited partially because I came to the U.S. from Shanghai, China. The Audit Program was carefully guided, and it has been proven to be very successful. BZ’s Mission: Achieving Insight thru Open, Honest, Exchanges of Experiences – a Place for Contemplation & Reflection- Develop Good Characters, Tolerant of Others- Forging links, Mind to Mind, in a Chain Unbroken.
Place of Engagement is significant to me, an Architect. For Will and Maxey, their magic place is the Roof of the Hall. The need to climb up thru a hatch and to find open sky must have affected their mind and opened their hearts.
I also believe in Angels. For me there is clearly a Third Person in this amazing story. On top of Page 170 David Singer yelled at Will: “He’s hurting. A lot. Just fucking call him.” Will called Maxey who was in distress. Very often a Friendship is guided or saved by a caring Third Friend. ___________________________________________________________________________+
The post in your blog about friendly architecture had me a little puzzled at first, as this is a new way of thinking for me about architecture. I had observed that architecture of makes a statement, for example through form and function, but friendliness hints at the subtle effects that architecture has on the soul and the senses. Shortly after reading the article, I found myself exploring the map of the US, curious about places and regions where I used to live or had traveled. A memory arose in my consciousness about a road that I used to drive on my way between Baltimore and the Albany, NY area shortly after graduating from college in the early 1970’s.. The road is The Taconic State Parkway.
Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia under the heading of Scenery:
Landscape architects such as Gilmore Clarke worked closely with engineers and construction crews during the Taconic’s construction, often on site. Some features of the road’s design address practical considerations and increase safety. Curves that climbed or descended were banked to increase vehicle traction and permit better drainage. Likewise the curves in undulating terrain are located to reduce blind spots at crests and keep the sharpest turns out of valleys. These also make sure that views of distant landscapes open up on downgrades and on long curves, when they are less distracting.
Closer to the road, on the northern sections in Columbia and Dutchess counties, the road was routed to showcase a nearby view of wooded hillside or a farm. Since trucks were not permitted on the road—for some time, this even included privately owned pickup trucks used solely for personal use—in many sections tree branches overhang the roadways, creating a park-like canopy. The curve of the northbound AMVETS Memorial Bridge over Croton Reservoir echoes the surrounding hills. On the medians and berms, plantings were carefully planned to maintain continuity with the surrounding woods. On the descent into Peekskill Hollow in Putnam Valley, the trees and shrubs above the retaining wall on the east side were transplanted from the path of the highway, which retained the appearance of the local forest and saved money. Overpasses, both carrying roads over the parkway and carrying it over roads, were faced in native stone. Grade intersections, usually a feature engineers tried to avoid, which initially helped keep local east–west routes open and connect the parkway to the landscape it traversed, have since either been closed or replaced by overpasses.
As a result, the Taconic has been the subject of much praise over the years not only for its vistas but for the way it harmonizes with the surrounding landscape. Sociologist Lewis Mumford, who often criticized the effect of superhighway construction on contemporary cities, always advised friends traveling up from New York to visit him at his house in Amenia that they should take the Taconic. He described it as “a consummate work of art, fit to stand on a par with our loftiest creations”. The engineers, he said, had avoided “brutal assaults against the landscape.” Albany-born novelist William Kennedy, whose family frequently drove the Taconic during his childhood to visit relatives further south, called it “a 110-mile [180 km] postcard. It’s the most beautiful road I’ve ever known—in all seasons.” “You can drive it with confidence”, said automotive writer David E. Davis. “There are no bad surprises about the way the road is engineered.” Landscape architect Garret Eckbo called the Taconic “as lovely an integration of highway engineering and landscape architecture as one could hope to find”.
Commenting on this years later, architecture critic Matthew Gandy wrote:
Clarke’s design for the Taconic State Parkway, for example, provides a vivid example of a new kind of mediation among nature, technology and society, with what appears to be a delicate balance between the new infrastructural project and an imaginary natural order. Implicit within this aesthetic dialectic is the notion of engineering as an art form that can in some way embellish or even improve upon nature: there is no radical disjuncture here but a sense of aesthetic progression and purity of form.
So there you have it, one example of “friendly” architecture.
Billy found the following Taconic State Parkway photos from Googling. He learned from Ed Wuenschel’s writing above that indeed FRIENDLINESS is a JOYFUL FEELING created thru THOUGHTFULNESS and UNDERSTANDINGof HUMAN NATURE and our INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP to NATURE :
FRIENDLINESS, indeed, privides a warm feeling of COMPANIONSHIP WITH THE SURROUNDING and the satisfaction of FEELING THE WONDERFUL BRIDGING and CONNECTING.
A few Internet searches that resonate with me are shared below.
Men want love as badly as women do. They just might not always be as obvious about it. But generally, they want the same thing: friendship, companionship, chemistry.
Traits that women tend to value and need most from their romantic partners are integrity, sensitivity, and intimacy. Women need the men in their lives to be feminist allies who want to see them succeed.
A Perfect Boyfriend should satisfy the following criteria:
1. He’s smart
While some of us are naturally brainier than others, a new study from the Hanken School of Economics in Finland suggests that the smarter the man, the less likely he is to be unfaithful. According to the research, more intelligent men are more likely to get married and stay married.
So if you’re worried your boyfriend might be too brainy for you, a) don’t be intimidated because intelligence isn’t everything, and b) know that you may have a guy who’s more likely to be faithful on your hands.
2. He makes you laugh
Finding someone you can have a laugh with is crucial – even if everyone else rolls their eyes at his dad jokes, if they crack you up, that’s all that matters.
And a study has shown that men are more likely to have “mating success” if they have a GSOH.
3. He actively supports your career
A study found that husbands were a deciding factor in two-thirds of women’s decisions to quit their jobs, often because they thought it was their duty to bring up their children.
Even when the women in the study described their husbands as supportive, they also revealed that the men refused to change their own work schedules or offer to help more with looking after children.
4. He makes as much effort with your friends and family as you do with his
It’s not uncommon for a woman to end up giving up her own social life to slot into her new man’s. But it’s rare that a man does the same once entering a relationship.
In fact, a recent study found that young men get more satisfaction out of their bromances than their romantic relationships with women. While this is clearly ludicrous, maintaining your friendships is important. So make sure you’re with a man who not only wants you to make time to see your friends but also makes an effort to get to know them too.
5. He’s emotionally intelligent
If stereotypes are to be believed, it is women who are always desperate to talk about feelings and never men who fall hard. Whilst this definitely isn’t true, it’s important each person in a relationship has a certain level of emotional intelligence.
Studies suggest that women are better at taking the opinions and views of their partner into consideration than men, which is essential for a healthy relationship.
6. He respects your opinions and listens to what you have to say
Being closed-minded isn’t a trait that’s exclusive to a particular gender, but if a man is convinced he’s always right and will never consider your argument, it’s not a good sign.
A study from the University of Texas found that the most successful relationships weren’t down to compatibility, but rather making the relationship work. “My research shows that there is no difference in the objective compatibility between those couples who are unhappy and those who are happy,” study author Dr. Ted Hudson said.
So if you or your partner is always looking for the next best thing rather than committing to make your relationship last, it may not bode well.
8. He celebrates your achievements
Whether it’s deadlifting your bodyweight or learning enough German for a trip to Oktoberfest, it’s important to have a partner who celebrates your achievements.
But this isn’t just to make you feel great – a study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that couples who did so were more satisfied with their relationships than those who reacted negatively or were indifferent.
9. He shares your values
Having a similar outlook in life could be crucial to a successful relationship, according to a study. The more alike your personalities are, the more likely you are to approach problems in the same way.
You and your partner will share similar approaches to everything from socializing to working if your priorities are the same, and this is likely to lead to a greater level of respect for one another.
The author is a neuroscientist, a mediocre tennis player, and a longtime friend of the Lee family. He lives with his wife and son in Potomac, Maryland, where he can often be found chatting up complete strangers to the amusement and/or embarrassment of his family. The ideas expressed within are his alone and do not reflect the views of the National Institutes of Health or the United States Government.
Several years ago, my good friend Gary Lee told me that his father was working on a “friendship project”. I was intrigued. The more I learned about it, the more I thought this was a brilliant and important thing to do. The resultant Friendshipology website contains a variety of enlightening and beautiful essays, many of which describe personal experiences of friendship. This site serves as a wonderful reminder of the value and power of friendship (thank you Billy Lee!). Earlier this year, Billy asked me to contribute an essay to Friendshipology with the seemingly simple suggestion that we might be able to learn something about the nature of friendship from recent advancements in neuroscience. Now, how hard can that be? Just apply what little we know about the seemingly infinite complexities of the brain to understand the infinite complexities of friendship. I have to wonder whether Billy has profoundly overestimated my ability to connect these two topics, or perhaps he is just punishing me for something I did when I was a teenager. Unfortunately, despite all the recent progress in neuroscience, we remain far from a good understanding of the neurobiology of friendship. Nevertheless, Billy’s suggestion has preoccupied me for the last couple of months. What follows are some linking propositions that relate our current thinking about the operations of the mind to some observable features of friendship. I have avoided speculation about the biology of friendship, and at times I have strayed from the science-of-the-mind theme altogether, but I hope the friendly readers of Friendshipology will find these meanderings as interesting and provocative as I do.
As a scientist, my inclination is to start with first principles. I began with the question: What is friendship? I don’t have an easy or definitive answer to this question. The Webster’s Dictionary defines a friend as 1) a person who has a strong liking for and trust in another person or, 2) a person who is not an enemy friend or foe. I think we can all agree that this definition, though not inaccurate, does not remotely capture the nature of friendship. Friendship is a wondrous and multifaceted thing. It can mean different things to different people, friendships are formed and transformed in an infinite number of ways, and yet we use same word to describe them. It’s something that most everyone has experience with, and yet no two friendships are alike. The foundation and the elements that constitute a friendship vary widely, but we all recognize them. The term chemistry is often used to describe the dynamics of a relationship, which is an apt metaphor. However, perhaps friendship can also be understood at a more fundamental level as the product of a universal affiliative force or energy ..let’s call it “friendship chi”. Like gravity, it is omnipresent, it acts on us, we act on it, and it attracts and connects us all. I was thrilled to discover in Stephen Lee’s essay from November 2021 a discussion of the Chinese value of loyalty (Yi Qi) which is described as “a code of conduct between friends or the force/energy leading to such behavior”. It seems the concept of friendship chi is quite ancient!
Now that I have decided that a definition of friendship is a non-starter, let me make attempt to establish some points of contact between what we know about the functions of the mind and what we understand about friendship. While I really like the notion of friendship chi, it’s not my intention to try to connect this concept with the workings of the mind…but I invite the reader to make their own connections. I have organized what follows into brief sections that focus on a few specific functions of the mind that most neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, and psychologists would attribute to the working of the brain. This is not meant to be an authoritative or exhaustive treatment of this topic, far from it, but hopefully it can be a starting point for some future conversation with friends over drinks and a nice meal.
It’s easy to make friends, but hard to get rid of them.
Friendship and the Developing Mind
I find it remarkable that the capacity for friendship is evident very early in human development, far before many other cognitive faculties are fully mature. How early? We know that toddlers demonstrate affiliative behaviors towards peers long before language and social skills are fully developed. It seems that our brains are wired for friendship at very early stage. We all have experienced this firsthand, and some of us may have observed this in our own children. Whether there is a genetic component to affiliative behaviors or whether they are learned (probably a bit of both), it is noteworthy that our capacity for friendship may be present long before we are fully toilet trained. This ability to form bonds of friendship early in life speaks to the fundamental and persistent nature of these relationships. These early life friendships are most often defined by motivations that are specific to that tender age. For example, a shared interest in sports, a favorite tv show, or the desire to eat powdered Jello mix straight out of the box. In many instances, and this has been my fortunate experience, these early friendships endure. Of course, friendships evolve and grow with time, but they also serve as a connection to a shared past. Many of the guys within the group of friends from my childhood neighborhood can trace their friendships back to kindergarten (I was a relative latecomer, arriving in the 5th grade). There is also a timelessness that is associated with both the formation and maintenance of friendships. Most of us don’t enter friendships with a mindset that the relationship is finite in time. Friendships don’t expire like a lease on a car. These are, by definition, open-ended engagements. When we think of friends with whom we have lost touch or who have passed away, those friendships exist in our minds in the present tense irrespective of the separation. As we move through life, our friendships serve as a constant in an ever-changing world. The mind continues to develop throughout our lifespan and our social connectedness through friendships is an important part of that continuous developmental process. Indeed, there is ample evidence to suggest that friendships are an important component of overall wellness and a key ingredient of successful aging.
Friendship, Self, and Others
The notion of the self as distinct from others seems natural and, in many ways, is celebrated in western society which places a great value on individualism and individual accomplishments. However, it can be argued that an extreme separation of self from others can be isolating and unhealthy. This may sound familiar to those with a knowledge of eastern philosophy. Buddhism, for example, teaches that an adherence to a strict dualist perspective (self vs others, us vs them, good vs evil, etc) can only lead to delusion and sorrow. I would like to suggest that friendship can be thought of as an antidote to the detrimental consequences of the mind’s polarization of self and other. Friendships can be thought as a privileged and profound connection between minds….and this is accomplished without the internet! There is a cognitive ability that is closely related to the concept of self, it is what psychologists and cognitive scientists refer to as Theory of Mind or ToM. ToM is the ability to attribute mental states, such as beliefs, intents, and emotions to ourselves and, importantly, to others. You can think of it as a kind of mind reading, being aware of one’s one own state of mind and that of another person. It is the stock-in-trade of psychologists and professional poker players. In my experience, some people are better at this than others. It is also my experience (and my wife can surely attest to this) that ToM takes effort and practice. It is a key ingredient of social behavior and a critical component of emotions like love, sympathy, and empathy. Friendships are sustained by an understanding of each other’s mental states. This often takes the shape of words or deeds, but it is a form of sharing. There is a give and take in friendships that has a foundation in a shared understanding of each other’s feelings, interests, aspirations, etc. Friends give and receive in many ways, like a baseball being thrown back and forth between two people (no discussion is complete without a sports analogy). One must be attentive to their playing partner and make the necessary adjustments to keep the game going. If the ball gets dropped, one side must work a bit harder for the game to continue. Friendship, like a good game of catch, requires all those involved to be open to receiving and generous in giving. I have used the act of playing catch figuratively, but it can be a quite literal process for developing and maintaining relationships. Many years ago, my brother-in-law told me of how he would in invite his teenage daughters to toss football around as a method to engage them in conversation and learn more about what was happening in their lives. An ingenious parenting strategy. He has a great relationship with his daughters, who are now wonderful and accomplished adults and who can also throw a football with a nice tight spiral. If you are interested in a more embodied expression of friendship, see my friend Neil Norton’s excellent essay that discusses movement as a means of communicating and connecting.
We are social animals and we thrive through our connections with others. It is the formation of these social connections that reduces the distance and differences among people. An act of friendship is an acknowledgement and an expression of our shared humanity and, just maybe, the mind’s way of breaking down the distinctions of self and other to make us happier and better humans.
Friendship is the most valuable thing a man can have. It’s worth more than money, land, horses, or cattle. It might be the only thing you never forget.
As mentioned above, we are social animals and like all animals we are driven by needs. We know from nearly a century of research that the brain contains specific circuitry that is dedicated to satisfying these needs from the very basic, like breathing and eating, to more abstract and perilous behaviors like searching for just the right gift for one’s spouse. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow conceived of a hierarchy of needs as part of a theory to understand human motivation. This conceptualization divided human needs into three categories: basic needs, psychological needs, and self-fulfillment needs. This is depicted in the figure below.
For the sake of this essay, I will focus only on the psychological needs. One notable feature of his theory is the importance of friends and intimate relationships for psychological well-being. We are motivated to form and maintain friendships because they fulfill the need to be connected to a greater social whole which, according to Maslow, is a necessary component to achieving one’s full potential as a person. That may be true, but aside from a greater goal of self-actualization friendships are also intrinsically rewarding. Social media capitalizes on this phenomenon by constantly reminding its subscribers how may online followers/friends they have. A more tangible instance of reward is the gratitude we feel when a friend pays for a drink or helps us move to a new apartment (an act of true friendship if there ever was one). We also experience reward vicariously when we do something nice for another person, whether they are a friend or a stranger. For example, I am in the habit of opening doors for women*. It’s a simple courtesy that makes me feel good. As mentioned above, our brains are wired for reward. Rewards motivate our every behavior, whether the behavior benefits oneself, is an act of altruism, or an act of friendship. The bottom line is that friendships are rewarding in countless ways and are a seemingly essential part of being human.
*I am aware that some may view this behavior as chauvinist and I have made a concerted effort in recent years to open doors for men as well.
True friends stab you in the front.
Friendship, Learning and Memory
Two thoughts come to mind when I think about how I have learned from my friends. The first is that I have often sought friendships with those I admire or who have qualities that I aspire to. In part, it is though friendships that we are shaped into the people we become. Friends often set a good example for us to follow. This is learning howto be. This could be how to treat others, how to deal with adversity and success, how to listen, etc. The possibilities for learning in this manner are numerous and often unplanned or unexpected. I have a friend who appropriates my jokes and funny stories for his own use, and then tells me about it later. A shared sense of humor is a powerful bonding agent for a friendship. The point I am trying to make is that the good stuff from our friends rubs off on us (…and sometimes the bad stuff too, but we can blame our friends for that). Friendships change who we are. It is also the power of friendship that can give us a glimpse of ourselves through another’s eyes. This is both affirming and corrective. Friends are sounding boards that let us know how we are doing in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Friends encourage and support each other. It is the very best of friends who are unafraid to administer an ego adjustment or tell us when we are wrong. I think the way we learn from our friends differs from learning that occurs by other means, such as from teachers, books, the internet, etc. We don’t often form emotional bonds with people we do not know personally or with the various media sources we consume at alarming rates these days. It’s these deeper emotional bonds that motivate us to listen, to learn, and sometimes to change. I speculate that this type of associative learning is accomplished by the brain in a manner that is somehow different from other types of learning.
A second thought is that, through friendships, we learn an appreciation for things and ways of thinking that did not originate from within ourselves. The interests of our friends become, to some degree, our interests too. Through our friends we develop new passions and sensibilities. Through my friendships, I have developed interests in birding, trees, and tennis, to name just a few. These relationships have also exposed me to the career interests of my friends that I have come to appreciate. For example, I very much doubt that I would ever have been exposed to the finer points of public land use policy, solid rocket motor construction, and endoscopic spine surgery were it not for my friends. These are just a few examples of the universe of things that I have been exposed to through friendships. It is through our friends that we live many lives vicariously and are enriched by the experience.
There may be some truth to the aforementioned movie line “friendship… might be the only thing you never forget”. Think about an important memory from your life. This act of remembering is what psychologists refer to as declarative memory, it is the memory process related to a recollection of facts and events. I really like the word ‘recollection’ in this context because it suggests that the act of retrieving a memory may be a “re-collection” of disparate bits of information to form a familiar narrative event. We know that certain brain regions, such as the hippocampus, play an important role in this process. We also know from our own experience (and many decades of research) that these declarative memories are characterized by specific elements. Now think about that memory again. I’ll bet that your memory of that event contains details about the place, the people, and maybe even the emotions you experienced at that time. These elements seem to provide a framework for supporting our memories in all their seemingly rich detail. These elements, such as places and people are critical for these “re-collections”. There is neuroscientific evidence that the hippocampus contains a dedicated mechanism for remembering spatial information and spatial relationships, suggesting there may indeed be something special about places that is important for anchoring our memories (the discovery of “place cells” in the hippocampus was awarded the Nobel prize in 2014). I would like to suggest that friends may also have a special role in supporting memory. Many of our formative and most profound memories are those that include friends and loved ones. When friends and family gather, they often tell stories about past shared experiences. It may be this shared narrative among friends that anchors us in time and is part of the critical mnemonic framework that enables us to recall our past.
I have been fortunate to have many excellent and long-lasting friendships. I think of these friendships often, although it is becoming increasingly rare that I can be with these friends in person. It is my memory of these friendships that makes me smile and look forward to the next time we are together. Hopefully by then we’ll have that brain thing all figured out.
NEIL NORTON is a Certified Arborist since 2002 and holds a Masters Degrees in Business Administration and Latin American Studies from Tulane University. Neil is passionate and active around issues of tree conservation and education, both locally and nationally. He teaches Qigong and Taichi since 2008. Neil loves inspecting trees, and thoroughly enjoys his encounters with clients and their trees in all the hidden neighborhoods of Atlanta.
We find friends in many quarters, proximity, common interests, school, neighbors, and even on the internet. I often encounter new friends in movement. My friend Billy Lee has asked me to share my perspective on friendship and movement after demonstrating to him some Qi Gong.
In Qi Gong, an ancient Chinese series of movements, we often discuss different types of learning, whether auditory, visual, and/or kinetic. Perhaps there are different ways of being friends. I know that becoming friendly with someone often has to do with a “feeling”. Love at first sight would be an extreme example. Often there is just something that intrigues you about the other, which could fall into the categories of types of learning. You might like the sound of someone or how they look. Alternatively, you might be repelled by someone on the same grounds. I found that my movement when not paying attention, which can appear quick and intense upsets dogs. I know because they bark at me. What does it mean to be kinetically drawn or repelled by someone?
So much of our language comes through our body. When we move together in unison there is a power and reinforcement that is shared without words. I have always considered myself a kinetic learner, it is a language that comes natural to me. While I have learned to adapt, words have always been a struggle. I enjoy my Qi Gong practice as it allows me to share with others through movement. Often in movement, I find I can be truer to myself and relate more genuinely than through words.
Movement also allows me to align myself with nature that combines both elements of me and nature as reflected in my body. For me, moving in sync with nature means slowing your breathing pattern and coordinating it with my mind and body through gentle movements. When we move with nature, our movement takes on a deeper meaning. Combine that with another person and it becomes reciprocal. Sometimes I practice what I jokingly call Tree Gong, a type of Qigong with a tree, where I slow my breath and stand like a tree, envisioning your exhalation of carbon dioxide and inhalation of oxygen, exactly inverse to what the tree is doing.
While movement most always starts internally, it is always expressed in an external fashion. Some types of movements are more accepted than others, for example tennis on a tennis court, or frisbee on a field, or dancing in a club. The ancient arts, like Tai Chi and Qi Gong, not only connect us with those of past, but it is also an excellent way to connect with those in our present. There have been several occasions when I attracted unwanted attention practicing Tai Chi in public. So, finding a safe place to practice is important, unless you are trying to make a statement, but do not be surprised if the statement is misinterpreted or worse is threating to someone.
Many feel constricted by their ability to move, whether it is emotional or physical. Each of us has our own ways to move through gravity on Earth. We are nature, each one of us, so embrace a method and do not judge yourself, just breath and move. The next time you see a movement practice, whether dance, tai chi, qi gong, throwing the frisbee or playing ping pong, consider partaking. There is power in moving together and in unison with nature.
Neil is one of my son, Gary’s very best friends. They grew up together in Ladera as neighbors and schoolmates when they were near ten years old. I was an active participant in many of their sports activities. One year, Neil got injured and could not play baseball for quite a period. He and I got to know each other and became friends as we watched and cheered for his teammates and had many fun and interesting conversations. Neil and family visited us earlier this year from Atlanta, Georgia. I invited him to write for this Friendshipology Website. Thanks, Neil, for adding “TREE GONG” in our vocabulary.