Posted by Orrin Woodward on May 11, 2011
True friends give the most when they receive the least – Orrin Woodward
Friendships are not what they used to be. The quality and quantity of friends, according to the 2006 study of the American Sociological Review, is declining. In the study, 1,467 people were surveyed and compared to data collected 19 years ago. The data found the average number of people with whom Americans can discuss matters of importance had dropped by nearly one-third, from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Lynn Smith-Lovin, one of the authors, a Professor of Sociology at Duke University, stated, “”The evidence shows that Americans have fewer confidants and those ties are also more family-based than they used to be. This change indicates something that’s not good for our society. Ties with a close network of people create a safety net. These ties also lead to civic engagement and local political action.” The study also revealed that the number of people who have no one with whom to discuss important matters more than doubled, to nearly 25% of survey respondents. Another of the report’s findings was the percentage of people who talk only to family members about important matters increased from about 57 percent to about 80 percent, while the number of people who depend totally on their spouse has increased from about 5 percent to about 9 percent. To summarize, both family and non-family confidants dropped over the 19 year period, but the most significant loss was in non-family connections – friends. Sociologists believe the “discussion networks,” a person’s friends and family, to be an important social resource, providing encouragement, counseling, and support in people’s lives. Some may argue that FaceBook or Twitter connects people in “discussion networks,” but the high-tech world will never replace the warmth of high-touch relationships. In fact, Robert Putnam, in his seminal work, Bowling Alone, ask, “What is the single most common finding from half a century of research on the correlates of life satisfaction?” His extensive research can be summarized in one sentence, “that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s social connections.” C.S. Lewis described the change in the value of friendship, writing, “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. We admit of course that besides a wife and family a man needs a few ‘friends.’ But the very tone of the admission, and the sort of acquaintanceships which those who make it would describe as ‘friendships,’ show clearly that what they are talking about has very little to do with that Philia which Aristotle classified among the virtues or that Amicitia on which Cicero wrote a book. It is something quite marginal; not a main course in life’s banquet; a diversion; something that fills up the chinks of one’s time.” Sadly, if true happiness is based upon a person’s friends and social connections, then the future of the Western world is dismal at best. But perhaps, with a little self-discipline and character development, the principles of true friendship can be restored, turning the tide of Western decline.