• DATE May 25, 2015
  • URL oneinstitute.com/tile/durable-friendships/

Durable Friendships

David Brooks on the surprising benefits of friendship

In a New York Times column last fall, cultural commentator David Brooks mused about what he’d do with $500, if he had it to do with as he pleased. Surprisingly, he decided to think small. “I realized that if I really had that money,” he writes, “I’d want to affect a smaller number of people in a more personal and profound way. The big, established charities are already fighting disease and poverty as best they can, so in search of new directions I thought, oddly, of friendship.”

Friendship – which ancient writers considered “the pre-eminent human institution” – has a variety of social benefits. Brooks considers three of the most significant ones. First, “friendship helps people make better judgments.” Second, friendship makes it possible for “better versions of each other” to emerge. Third, and finally, “people behave better if they know their friends are observing.” He continues:

It’s also true that friendship is not in great shape in America today. In 1985, people tended to have about three really close friends, according to the General Social Survey. By 2004, according to research done at Duke University and the University of Arizona, they were reporting they had only two close confidants. The number of people who say they have no close confidants at all has tripled over that time.

People seem to have a harder time building friendships across class lines. As society becomes more unequal and segmented, invitations come to people on the basis of their job status. Middle-aged people have particular problems nurturing friendships and building new ones. They are so busy with work and kids that friendship gets squeezed out.

Brooks goes on to describe what he sees as a compelling solution to these problems – a solution that may sound quite familiar to friends of the One Institute.

You can read the full column here