The importance of friends

Do you view your friendships as valuable or is it easy for you to ‘de-friend’ certain ones? Rev. Doctor Gereth Edwards contemplates this.


I recently had the opportunity to celebrate a birthday of a friend. On the way back, I reflected on how lucky I was. There is the saying, ‘Count your blessings’; I was doing just that. It wasn’t a corporate balanced scorecard or anything as quantifiably as that. I was sitting in the car listening to the radio while Peter popped in the shop, to get a few odds and ends, at the petrol station. Dionne Warwick’s (one of my favorite divas) soulful “That’s What Friends Are For” was playing and triggered a flood of emotions.

Maybe I was reminiscing after going to visit them earlier? Maybe it was time to reflect? Like the now obsolete Rolodex, I imagined flipping through the names (friends) in my life, who I had lost by proximity or emotionally. This exercise continued for a few days. Before you imagine me as some pining youth despairing for a lost love, I was reconnecting with my universe.

If you know the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game where you are rated on how close you are from knowing him personally. Called, The Oracle of Bacon, it maps all intersecting points to the closeness of knowing him personally, and gives you a score. I suppose it is yet another way to validate ourselves.

I find it odd that I checked this, even while writing this piece. Like a child, wanting to know my score was like Chinese water torture. To humbly brag, my scores were two and four; I know two different people who have been in movies with him. It speaks to the fact how preoccupied we are with our relative positions in life.

Robin Dunbar, who is an evolutional anthropologist, says 150 is the number of people with whom we can maintain a meaningful relationship in our lives. This was true in the time of The Domesday Book (1066), any social grouping, and even on Facebook.

Before you completely feel like a freak, 150 is the size of a small village in the 18th century. The relationship we have with people vary immensely, but the core relationships are what sustains us. The proverbial baker, butcher and candlestick maker being more background on our tapestry and often situational kind of friends. Our friends and family are detailed and even embroidered in precious metal thread.

Facebook allows you to keep track of people who would otherwise effectively no longer be in your lives. I remain confused that Facebook has a ‘Friend’ or ‘De-friend’ function to make it easy to delete someone from our lives. Saying that, I have deleted the cyber connection with others as well. This is done without too much difficulty.

In real life (IRL), the scenario is more complex – feelings linger, we get hurt and scarred. In my opinion, this is the way it should be. Friends are valuable and should be cherished, and the decision to move away from them cannot be made lightly.

For me to consider somebody my friend, the qualities that go up to ‘The Oracle of Gereth’ score varies. What is cardinal? Feeling safe with them – never having to censor my internal dialogue. What also helps is the, “What! You, too? Thought I was the only one” syndrome C.S. Lewis spoke about; this is also a moment when I become friends with somebody. Somebody who cannot keep confidence or is not a great conversationalist aren’t deal breakers for me. Frankness counts more to me than a similar sense of social justice.

A familiar scenario today is hypermobility, no longer will we stay in the same house, stay in one career, and the older we become, the more discerning we become. Very few of us can or want to go to a long boozy lunch that becomes pizza with people who aren’t close friends, the way we did in our twenties.

In today’s context, our friends are replacing extended family and the village. I am not sure what that means in our lives. What I know is that my friends are my history, my geography, part of my moral compass, add luster and patina that an antique like me needs.

Rev. Doctor Gereth Edwards was a practicing plastic surgeon, co-founder of the Netcare Milpark Hospital - Breast Care Centre of Excellence and the Breast Health Foundation. He then refocused his life and qualified as a minister. 
He writes from both a scientific and humanities view.

MEET OUR EXPERT – Rev. Doctor Gereth Edwards

Rev. Doctor Gereth Edwards was a practicing plastic surgeon, co-founder of the Netcare Milpark Hospital – Breast Care Centre of Excellence and the Breast Health Foundation. He then refocused his life and qualified as a minister.
He writes from both a scientific and humanities view.


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