What Friends Are For by Nancy Mugele

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Don’t tell anyone but sometimes I spend my free time watching “Friends” marathons on TV. I believe that the “Friends” ensemble was exceptional in their day. “Modern Family” is right up there with “Friends” now, but I have been watching “Friends” since the series began in 1994. By then I had three small children, and I made sure they were all in bed before my show began. “Friends” reminded me of my time in NYC in the 1980s – working an entry level job, living paycheck to paycheck, spending as much time as possible with friends, and, of course, drinking lots of coffee in the corner coffee shop.

The six cast members became my friends during the show’s ten-year run and I cried during its final episode. But, by the time Monica and Chandler got married in the last season in 2004, a young entrepreneur and his friends were launching Facebook, and friendship and social connection would be forever changed.

In the past few years I have found my three oldest and dearest friends on Facebook – one whom I have known since birth, as our mothers were pregnant together, and we lived in a three-family house in Boston; one whom I met in the 7th Grade and who was my best friend throughout junior high and high school; and one who was my maid of honor and partner in crime in NYC and who now lives in Paris. Sadly, we had lost touch through the years while life was happening, but thankfully, we have reconnected with the help of Facebook. I have visited with two of the three in person in the past few years, and one literally just found me last week! Plans for a visit are definitely in the works.

As of January 2018, Facebook had more than 2.2 billion monthly active users (Wikipedia). The company has certainly been under scrutiny this year for privacy issues, fake accounts and false news that is being spread on their platform. Many users have left – Jim included – because of the mean-spirited political rhetoric coming from both sides, but that is another story. To me, Facebook, at its core, is good.

Helping friends connect is important for the well being of humans. In case you missed it, this past Sunday was International Friendship Day and according to many recent studies “people who have strong social relationships tend to live longer than those who don’t” (Social Relationships and Mortality Risks, 2010). Although, however great our networks may be on Facebook or other social media sites, our inner circle is much smaller. “The average American trusts only 10 to 20 people” (Segregation in Social Networks Based on Acquaintanceship and Trust, 2011). And, that number may be declining. “From 1985 to 2004, the average number of confidants that people reported having decreased from three to two” (Social Isolation in America, 2006). The important piece here is that we need some one, or a handful of people, with whom we can share our innermost hopes, dreams and fears.

In “How to Make Friends, According to Science’ by Ben Healy in The Atlantic last week, “Reviving dormant social ties can be especially rewarding. Reconnected friends can quickly recapture much of the trust they previously built, while offering each other a dash of novelty drawn from whatever they’ve been up to in the meantime.” I can attest that this is true! You can pick up where you left off in the trust department and the catching-up is nostalgic, heartwarming and just plain fun. After all, what are friends for?

At Kent School one of the essential pillars of our school philosophy is Friendship. We name it and intentionally find ways for multi-aged groups of students to play, solve problems and share meals together. We believe that friendships are crucial to social and emotional development and we encourage friendships across grade levels and outside of established friend groups. Friends respect each other’s differences and celebrate them at Kent School. That’s what friends are for.

This summer, I have taken a selfie with my three closest friends. I realized recently that my adult children have become great friends whom I enjoy spending time with. In the past month thanks to vacations and a conference on mind, brain and education science for school, I have visited with each of them. From Montana to Baltimore to Nashville, I have hugged James, Jenna, and Kelsy in the span of 30 days and that fills me with immense joy.

Visit with your friends, make a new friend, connect with an old one or just spend time with your children – the happiness it brings will be great for your heart and soul.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

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