What’s so happy about Friendship Day? An introspection.
The colourful ribbons are slowly coming off our wrists, and moments spent together with friends over the weekend are making their way into our memories. In India, the first Sunday of every August is celebrated as Friendship Day. It is a day designed for fun, mainly because the date changes every year so that no one misses out on the extensive weekend revelry.
The bands and illegible sketch pen wishes on our arms or uniforms are replaced by lunches, dinners, trips with friends as we grow up. The format may change but the idea stays the same – solidifying bonds with the people who have been an integral part of our lives for a significant amount of time, or the ones we would like to build these connections with. However, more often than not, we have a customised idea of what we’re looking for in a friend, so instead of meeting new people from diverse backgrounds who may hold a similar set of values, we actively seek out those who like the same music, books, movies and are part of the same sub-cultures that we associate ourselves with. It may happen at a sub-conscious level, but we are all guilty of this behaviour.
Back in school and college, the popularity of a student was directly proportionate to the number of bands they wore. That is still how the trend probably goes, albeit with more selfies and social media tags for those whom we are fonder of. This isn’t to devalue our existing friendships, but to really introspect on how we see friendship, what it embodies according to us, and how the process of making new friends really plays out today.
Social conditioning has the lead role to play in the feature film that is our life. As children, how many of us were reprimanded for being friends with that girl or boy who turned up ‘shabbily’ to school or was boisterous in class, didn’t score ‘well enough’ on the exams, or requested us to stay out late for another game of hopscotch in the evenings after school? Our curious, explorative natures were curtailed and scripts were handed out, with clear screenplay-like instructions on how to behave within our homes as well as outside. Our parents, teachers, relatives, neighbours all became directors, carefully manoeuvring our childhoods for us. As we got older, we internalised these ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and they slowly matured into unchanging judgements that applied like a blanket to all people. Some part of us still revolted but we called it teenage angst and confusion, hoping that it would settle down in the future. But it got more complex; on one hand we started compartmentalising people and on the other hand, our ideas of fairness began to decimate because once someone came aboard our ‘friend’ ship (forgive the pun), they could say or do no wrong. Accepting our friends for who they were, became an excuse to selectively forget the mistakes they made, even if they were at the expense of someone else. Friendship became a monthly-subscription of a magazine, or Netflix – month after month, we paid a certain amount, and received a fixed set of benefits. This went on, and here we are today. Harsh as it may seem, we have failed so many times, to nurture, mould, chisel our friendships, because we probably fear losing our friends or maybe we’re afraid of change, of growth.
Today, our support and worth may very well be measured in Likes, Shares, and Retweets. It requires bravado for our friends to disagree with us because we have perhaps lost the ability to handle criticism or different points of view. When a friend reasons with us, we cloud the discussion with sentimentality and start distancing ourselves from the person in question. We keep learning newer ways of sugar-coating everything we have to say, diluting the essence of why we wanted to say something in the first place, and consequently, the quality of our conversations.
Moving on to friendships beyond our close-knit circles, what happened to the universal idea of friendship as a sense of empathy, respect and love for other humans, irrespective of their race, what they looked like, how they spoke, what they wore and what faith they practiced? Why did it start mattering? Society failed us once again by being unable to create enough spaces that encouraged interactions among people from different walks of life, where we could debate ideas, learn collectively, engage each other with our stories, and use these experiences to build a more holistic worldview.
United Nations recognises July 30 as the International Day of Friendship – where the idea of friendship is free from the shackles of race, colour and religion. That is the ideal we must strive for. This year, let us break down the barriers that we have erected around ourselves, and attempt to forge new friendships by unlearning our rigid and myopic notions built on the concept of socially acceptable friendships. Only by igniting our curiosities and keenness to explore new horizons will we be able to overcome the hate, distrust, and misconceptions we harbour in our hearts, sharpen our intellect, and make better examples of ourselves as human beings.
“Aasmaan ke paar shayad, aur koi aasmaan hoga” – Rockford.
PUKAR’s Youth Fellowship Program is an 11-month research engagement where youth, especially those from marginalised (in more than one sense of the word) communities, explore the issues that are disturbing the balance of their ecosystems and attempt to find answers through research.