I never quite know how to make a convincing argument for spending time on friends, especially over family. After all, the truth is no matter how strong a friendship can be, its significance seems to pale in comparison to family ties.
- What are friends for?
Yet, we instinctively understand that friends are necessary for human flourishing. At the very least, the presence of friends provides a sense of familarity and safety that is needed for harmonious co-existence. And at its very best, friendship can blossom into a springwell of goodwill and strength derived from the extent friends are willing to do for the sake of friendship itself. At any rate, it seems self-evidently true that a life nourished with friends is more satisfying than a life without any.
- Will you regret not spending more time with friends?
Still, maintaining friendship is a tricky business. Most friends come into our lives by chance, and often they slip out of our lives as and when they like. Along the passage of time, people find new friends to replace old ones, as if the former is a convenient substitute for the latter. Friendship is seldom enduring and its transient nature casts serious doubt on the value of spending time on friends.
Out of practical considerations, prudence teaches us to spend time on only a handful of chosen friends, rather than counting the headcount of friends one may collect. However, only time can discern lifelong friends apart from the passer-bys. As time passes, we may find ourselves losing more friends than we can handle, especially when even the most cherished ones are gone unexpectedly. No wonder one of greatest regrets people have at old age is said to be “not spending more time with friends” when they could.
- Running out of friends
I did not realise my folly of not spending adequate time with friends until quite recently. In a self-imposed exile for nearly a decade, I had skipped every class reunion with old friends and turned down almost every invitation to social gatherings that might rob whatever precious time I could give my family. And neither did I made any effort to connect with friends using social media. Soon, the number of friends I had dwindled drastically, and alas, eventually the phone calls I got outside work and family, were only those from the representatives of bank institutions and insurance companies.
I was unalarmed with the dearth of friends until I was hospitalised one year ago. Lying on the sick bed for five consecutive days, each day passed with my longing for the company of friends grew stronger. But no one came, not even a single colleague from the workplace. I realised, at that instant, workplace friendship is fundamentally different. I understand why people prefer to keep private and professional lives separate, but I couldn’t help feeling sad as there are colleagues that I genuinely like and count as friends.
In desperation, I called up a close friend since college days, “Hi, buddy, I am in a hospital for a surgery. Nothing serious really. Just thought if you have time for some catching up.” I felt somewhat embarrassed.
To my delight, my good old friend visited me immediately without hesitation and I enjoyed his company tremendously. Thank you, my friend, I will never forget. And thank god, I still got one friend left, I thought.
- How did I run out of friends?
How did I arrive at such a dismal state? You might have already guessed the reasons: Marriage, Parenthood and Work. On hindsight, however, I realise the root cause was something else– a lack of proper appreciation of friendship.
Entering marriage and parenthood in my early thirties, I was prepared for a reconfiguration of my social life to fulfill my new-found duties as a husband and a working father. What I was unprepared for was the double whammy of my first-born child being diagnosed with developmental disorders and an abrupt change of job nature that increased the frequency of my overseas travels sharply. My life tailspinned into chaos before I could put home and workplace back into order after years of efforts. Spending time with friends became a luxury that I could ill-afford for a long time.
- Lesssons on friendship from friends
Although I was once near the brink of bankruptcy on friendship in the domestic front, I have made some unexpectedly enduring friendships abroad over those years, and am starting to see some good results at home ground in recent months after making changes.
Among my new-found friends and old ones, some have become my mentors and counsels, and a few others see themselves as my apprentices. It all started as purely work relationships, but have blossomed into something more because of shared values and mutual trust. Having like-minded friends at work is enjoyable and raises productivity. Even after the work is ceased and people have parted ways, the relationship will continue to grow as long as both parties develop a genuine liking for each other to make continuous efforts to deepen the connections.
I have learnt a few precious lessons from these friends, both new and old:
1. Friendship enriches a person and becomes an asset only when it is based on shared values and mutual trust.
2. Workplace friendship may turn into a liability only if it is grounded on convenience and calculated interests.
3. One must genuinely like a person, whatever the circumstances, to become lasting friends.
4. Do not mistake reciprocity of kindnesss as a transaction of give and take. Friends are willing to give and give for the sake of friendship alone.
5. Your friends may not always be there for you when you need them most. But if you truly cherish your friends, you can feel their presence even in their absence.
Thank you all for encouraging me to keep on writing in your WhatsApp messages. Please share your comments here or chose to follow my blog if you find it thoughtful and sincere enough. I am curious to find out also for how long and how often can I keep up this efforts to share with you, my family and friends.
William W.K. Tan
16 August 2017 10.20 pm