By Patch Adams, M.D. via: http://patchadams.org/friendship-best-medicine
When I see all the horrors and suffering in the world, I know it can be different. I know the solutions are nested in radiant loving. I’ve asked hundreds of thousands of people at audiences in 70 countries in 28 years if there was anything more important in their lives than loving. No more than 10 have raised their hands.
So why aren’t we loving? Loving is not taught as an intelligence in any public-school in the world, even one hour in 13 years, nor is compassion taught in any medical school. Now what I mean by loving as an intelligence is the use of thinking as a tool to construct oneself into a loving and compassionate being. In my never-ending pursuit to understand this better I read books on love to get ideas. I just read a new book by a professor of sociology at the Sorbonne in Paris, Jean-Claude Kaufmann, called The Curious History of Love. He only mentions love in the context of relationships between couples and only heterosexual ones at that. Friendship is never mentioned. I finished this book wondering why he limited his vision to such a small part of the wonderfully wide expanse of love’s horizon.
For most people, friends are the most important thing in their lives. Romance mostly comes and goes but friends can be eternal. Around the world I find loneliness to be the worst experience patients (people) can have. I am convinced that depression is never an illness but rather a symptom of loneliness (Please read John Cacioppo’s book Loneliness). The way I discover if a person has a friend is if they are free of depression. I define friend as that person who, if you are actively thinking of them, you can’t be depressed. Like primates, we are group animals. We have a 100 million year old communal history. Having studied primates all my life I think that my relationship to our primate past is at the center of my drive for community. This is why I think the move to nuclear family and to solitary living is sociologically so dangerous. In my study of gorilla and chimpanzee groups, I’ve come to think that friendship possibly has its roots in the communal life of great apes and in the relationships they form within their groups. It is a common feeling that a friend is for life. I suppose initially it was a security/company thing but has become the measure of our richness (not in numbers of friends, but depth of our friendships).
Many of the couples I’ve encountered in my lifetime do not have the depth in their relationships that the members of these couples have in their relationships with their other friends. I see so few long term loving couples that when I do, I ask them what the secret is. Invariably they say that their partner is their friend (or more likely, best friend). So maybe a partner, spouse or lover is simply a variant of a kind of friend. Maybe to couple well one could get really skilled at friendship with both genders and find a partner that is first and foremost a friend. Maybe even sex could be a way to deepen our friendships without requiring a commitment as a couple. It could potentially even lessen desperate dating if we had snuggle buddies and caressing chums.
As I think about nature and the arts I feel friendship may be the best way to describe my relationship to them (please read David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal). Just being close to them brings me intense joy and satisfaction. As a book lover and collector, I love to stand next to a floor to ceiling bookshelf where I know all the books. I feel them reach out with their arms and massage me. They go into my head and sing songs. I know people get this from a love of God. I don’t know their experience personally but I know it is real for them. I know someone has a friendship with God when their spirituality prevents them from feeling lonely.
So, Prof. Kaufman, I invite you to expand the vision of love presented in your book. I recommend some fabulous kissing, then go outside and watch birds, feel a closeness with nature, smile at your fellow human beings, all in the pursuit of loving.