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The science of friendship and its lifelong value

I met Larry Parsons in 5th grade at Carpenter Elementary. We became friends in-part to our mutual love of sports. In and outside of class we were always moving and socializing with students around us, growing our circle of friends. Though we have gone our separate ways, we met again at my father’s funeral. Our conversation and embrace made it feel like we had never been apart. The power of our friendship had not waived. It made me wonder what the limits of its value were.

The ancient Greeks word for friendship was philia. Aristotle believed that philia came in many forms focusing on relationships tied to business, romantic pleasure, and virtue. Aristotle once wrote. “such friendship requires time and familiarity; as the proverb says, men cannot know each other until they have eaten salt together….for though the wish for friendship comes quickly, friendship does not.” His thoughts centered on the idea that “a friend is another self”, but was to be sought and earned.

Building social networks is of great importance when moving from the elementary contained classrooms to middle school, where students switching classes expose them to a wider source of friends. Research found that two-thirds of 6th graders change friends between fall and spring semesters as they gravitate toward those with similar interests in this much larger “social bubble.” Students learned to build their circle of friends.

Researchers found that children engaged in “play” experienced greater social skills and intellectual growth. Students engage with each other whether it be in a Lego club, drama, sports, or hanging out at the beach during the summer. On average, Americans only spend 5% of their lifetime in a classroom. “Play”, whether as adults or adolescence or children, plays an important role in our personal and friendship development.

Research surrounding socializing college students conducted at Montreal’s McGill University found that “meeting people, making friends, developing new relationships, you’re forced to evaluate who you are and the type of people you want to associate with.” Socializing with others is essential to building your own personality.

Friendships are proven to have great value in personal growth, but what about physical wellbeing? Berkman and Syme researched this social connectedness and its relationship with mortality in 1965. They found those that were in social isolation, lacking friendships, were more likely to die over the following nine years of the study. Further studies found that social isolation doubled the risk of mortality. Findings showed that having many social bonds is associated with longer, healthier lives.

I am thankful for friends like Larry, always there for support and encouragement when needed, as I am for him. As Aristotle noted, “wishing for friendship comes quickly, friendship does not.” The value of friendship lies in a rich and happy life. Put in the time to build these enduring friendships, their value is long lasting for all!

Dr. Steve Patchin is Superintendent of Hancock Public Schools. Programs he has contributed to creating include Mind Trekkers and CareerFEST, helping students explore their talents and associated careers in STEM. His research has focused on increasing development of self-efficacy in individual students.

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