Lessons from a 93-year-old, a psychologist and Facebook, on friendship

Why you need to do more, talk less on this Friendship Day  

Sonali Shenoy Published :  03rd August 2018 12:29 PM   |   Published :   |  03rd August 2018 12:29 PM

We live in an era where disruption is the norm: what with WhatsApp, email, Facebook. Scroll, send, ping, attach, change filter, like (unlike), get interrupted by a group notification — and in the midst of it all maybe... get some work done. But that’s a solution for you to figure out ‘after’ you post that selfie you just took with this paper in your hand. With Friendship Day (August 5) around the corner, one has to wonder — why is it that the more we connect, the less connected we are?

The irony is no stranger to you of course. We know this. We live through it, on a daily basis. But the ‘why’ remains intangibly out of our grasp. Then back to our lives we go, to ‘connect’ all over again. We reached out to psychologist Mini Rao for her expert opinion on the subject and here were her thoughts. “People these days are far more comfortable having impersonal relationships like Facebook friends because there is not much effort required to maintain them. — a 'like' or a post is enough to keep it going.” Offline, however, friendships are time-consuming and take consistent effort to keep up with, she cites. “You need to get personal, remember your close friend’s children’s names, what they study... many personal details that we are either too lazy or too preoccupied to stay on top of.” Here’s where the lines get blurred and we start to lose touch with the distinction of who our friends really are. 

The birthday experiment
Like 39-year-old Kinnera Choudary, a mother of two, who decided for kicks earlier this year to take her birthday off Facebook just to see how many of her friends remembered. “From 300 wishes last year, I barely scratched 50,” Kinnera shares the steep drop with us. Maybe, don’t attempt a reality check on your birthday folks. You might end up icing your cake with tears instead of frosting!  

Of course, a major contributing factor to diluted friendships is just a lack of time — with our adult priorities set on career, family and getting a breather to just take some time out!  


Lean on me
If you’re not short of meaningful friendships, this initiative encourages you to share the love with someone who might need it. The Good Will Tribe originally started by Sonia Parekh and Chandni Sawlani (who hail from Bengaluru but are settled in Dubai) has for a while now facilitated anonymous handwritten letters all over India, Sri Lanka, Australia, the United Kingdom and the UAE. Simply called ‘Letters to Earthlings’ — 25-year-old Mohammed Usama who manages the Chennai chapter explains, “The idea is to send out positivity to those who need it, wishes to people who are unwell, gratitude to those that inspire us and so forth.” Requests can be sent via their website or Facebook page if you want to send somebody a letter. The initiative that will shortly turn four years old in Chennai has been known to give away free hugs as well!

Common sense
But time is not the most crucial factor to building deep bonds, we find out. And neither is conversation. Instead, several of the folks who have successfully managed to carve long-lasting friendships tell us to rely on ‘commonality’. “As an adult, I made some of my closest friends at an art class or during a trek because those are my interests, and we’ve continued to stay in touch long after the activity, because we have so much to talk about,” says art and design educator Aishwarya Manivannan (29).

A shared activity often breaks down the age-oriented segregation we’ve been conditioned to live by from our early years interacting with playmates of the same age, classmates and later co-workers. “But I’ve seen a 60-year-old and a 10-year-old hit it off when in front of a canvas. I think the reason this is possible is that with a shared activity you face similar challenges and can help each other — and that triggers friendships irrespective of how old or young you are,” she elaborates. 


I’ve seen a 60-year-old and a 10-year-old hit it off when in front of a canvas. I think the reason this is possible is that with a shared activity you face similar challenges and can help each other and that triggers friendships irrespective of how old or young you are. Aishwarya Manivannan, Art & design educator

Age no bar
Rohini Rau, a doctor at Kauvery Hospital in Alwarpet, decided to test the theory with a social experiment involving her 93-year-old grandmother, Supriya Cherian (whom she fondly calls Didu) in April this year (refer our April 20 issue).  Not wanting her grandmother to miss the family too much while they were travelling out of the country, she facilitated an auction of 60 minutes of her time each day. In turn, a stranger would get to choose from a diverse line-up of ‘Didu-approved’ things to do — like whipping up a Bengali dish in the kitchen, a smile therapy lesson or even pick up a bit of Malayalam! 

When we followed up with her post-auction, Rohini shares that was a big success. “Didu made 12 new friends spanning ages 11 to 50. And she had a blast doing it!” While she can’t say that any BFFs were made, what she did discover was that planning something fun to do was definitely more engaging time spent than a random conversation over coffee.

The takeaway is simple: grow your friendships by doing more of what you enjoy. Know the difference between Fakebook (sorry Facebook) friends and your real ones. And most importantly, don’t let your last WhatsApp exchange determine who you hang out with this weekend. Instead, consciously choose who you want to prioritise in your life, says Mini Rao. This can be done by “dividing your friendships into categories —  family friends, office friends, children’s parents as friends, spouse’s friends, spouse’s work colleagues as friends, school friends, college friends... ” she says. Phew. Once you write down these lists, filter those names by who you want to spend time with and just how much time you want to dedicate to each. And then send out a ping or a poke — because if you know who’s important, it will be just the same when you logout.

sonali@newindianexpress.com @brightasunshine