Stevenson in the Hawaiian Islands, with his good friend King Kalākaua
“A friend is gift you give yourself.” – Robert Lewis Stevenson, Scottish writer
Friendship is indeed a gift, and a priceless one at that. I often wonder, though, if the fast pace of modern life is jeopardising friendship. There seem to be many people with little time for those closest to them, and friendship can often be perceived as either a time-consuming luxury that yields little tangible result, or a demanding burden.
There is nothing wrong with aspiring to professional success and developing a network of business contacts, but at the end of our lives, no one ever regrets not having spent more time in the office. Practically everyone, however, would have liked to have spent more time with friends and loved ones.
Having lived and worked on two different continents I have been blessed with many beautiful friendships. But it wasn't until I moved into the Czech Republic that I fully understood how friendship often means different things to different cultures. ‘I admire Czechs for the reasonable balance they strike between work and play, and for always finding time to spend with friends.’
My experience living in Prague has shown me that friendship occupies a very special and somewhat exclusive place in the Czech value system. I admire Czechs for the reasonable balance they strike between work and play, and for always finding time to spend with friends. And while it may take some time to befriend a Czech, once the friendship has been established, it is a relationship that can be relied on.
As a child, making friends seemed as natural as borrowing a coloured pencil. As we grow older, our friendships can take a back seat to the day-to-day responsibilities of family and careers. We become so caught up in these obligations that we sometimes put friendships aside and, unfortunately, lose some of the most important relationships in our lives.
I don’t think it’s my imagination when I say that today’s technology also seems to be playing a part in the erosion of friendship. Paradoxically, tools like email, Facebook and Skype that have made it far easier for us to connect also isolate us. Most of us now have more relationships that are virtual than face-to-face.
Perhaps it is just my wishful thinking, but maybe the economic difficulties much of the world is experiencing now will lead to a reversal of the virtual relationship trend. Maybe we are in the midst of discovering that there are more important things than a corner office and the latest home entertainment center. Humbled by forces beyond our control, we may now be coming to realize that friends are the best marker we have for success in life. And it is usually in times of loss, adversity, and misfortune that we find out who our real friends are.
Interestingly, those friends who stand by us in good times and in bad do more than just help us get over life’s difficulties. Several studies have shown that friends not only help improve the quality of our lives, but also keep us healthy and living longer. Like regular exercise and a balanced diet, maintaining meaningful friendships is a proven way to improve health, prevent disease and extend life.
Over the years, I have learned to appreciate the importance of devoting time and attention to my friends and, as a result, I have enjoyed the fruits tenfold. And when I start feeling guilty about my weekly lunches with the girls or my endless soul-baring conversation over tea, I remind myself that a friend is gift you give yourself.