The Importance of Friendship - Penn-Mar

The Importance of Friendship

Posted on April 3, 2023

By Courtenay Dudek, Employment Coordinator, DSP III | Penn-Mar Human Services

A man at the beach.Tom Petty has a song where in the chorus he sings, “It’s hard to find a friend.” I have found it difficult past the age of thirty to find new friends or even have the desire to seek new friendships. But the question should be asked: why is friendship important? 

We are humans who consist of bodies and minds and arguably souls. We are not isolated, immaterial beings who can live off of light or in our own ideas; we desire some kind of human connection, whether it is someone to talk to, figure out the difficulties in life, be encouraged by, or simply be present with someone and enjoy company and conversation. 

Some kind of community has always been part of the human experience. Aristotle in his Ethics said, “Nobody would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other good things.” He goes on to say that having friends is one of the fine things of this life.

Friendships can ebb and flow like the tides. As we go through life, we encounter many people in our lives, some who are friends for a time, acquaintances, and the few who remain long-term, true, good friends.

A strong or true friendship, to use another old saying, is that of iron sharpening iron, strengthening one another to become better – referring to cultivating virtues or relationships, faithfulness, having a fulfilling life, moving from dysfunction to healthy relationships.

Friendship in Human Services

Work can be fulfilling for people, but it is only one piece of having a fulfilling life. What bolsters a person beyond our careers? Family and friendships, most certainly. Aristotle speaks of how there are good things in life, but without friendship, even those good things can tend toward meaninglessness.

In the human services field, we make the distinction of staff versus friends and do not blend the two. A Direct Support Professional (DSP) would be in the category of a resource or utility, not a friend. DSPs can support someone with a disability in attaining a job or medical assistance, or reaching out to the community to volunteer or do something that they enjoy, or in navigating interpersonal skills and building their own network of friends, etc.

A friend is one who is there to enjoy life with, a person who helps fulfill your life and whose life you also fulfill. While a DSP may have these attributes, they are there to support the person in building friendships with peers and/or people the person knows. Or, if a person has no network, to help facilitate finding a place where friendships (people of similar interests, but also trusted people) can be found.

Is friendship learned?

Usually we learn social interaction from imitating others. Many people with developmental disabilities historically have experienced high staff turnover. Sometimes they have also experienced inadequate opportunities to make friends or to spend time with their friends. This could be due to lack of services to help facilitate those opportunities, lack of reliable transport, or another barrier that would prevent anyone from making friends. 

When you do not have the opportunity or access to make friends or to spend time with friends, it is easy to begin to view staff as friends. Consequently, it is especially important that DSPs support someone to be able to go out and do things with friends, just like any of us might. Or, if they have not had those opportunities in the past, to support them in making new friends and meeting new people.

How can this start?

We all tend to frequent certain places repeatedly, such as a restaurant, café, game shop, or another favorite place to go. Eventually, we may be recognized as a “regular” by the workers or other patrons, and a conversation may strike up. Don’t most friendships begin with acquaintanceship? People often gather at places where conversation may occur.  Historically, taverns and cafes naturally facilitated this kind of atmosphere. Today, you might make a friend at a coffee shop, or maybe you’d meet them at a book club, in a sports league, while volunteering, or even online. 

What if you are an introvert?

Find places with like-minded people or push yourself to just be in a place where people are. Some people may not show any outward interest in wanting to interact with others. But as humans, we all seek some kind of connection with another, even those of us who are introverts. 

If you are a DSP, hopefully you know the person you are supporting well, and can help them gauge what places may be best and for how long, or what environments may be overwhelming. Basically, explore and try different things, different places – and yes, winter can be a difficult season to find places, unfortunately! 

Friendship is Fulfillment

When a person is in a school setting, most of the time it is relatively easy find at least one good friend. While in school, we’re exposed to many people our own age. In fact, high school or college can sometimes seem like the high point of one’s social life.

As an adult, finding friendships can be quite difficult. And if you are someone who is introverted or may experience social anxiety, it can be even more difficult. 

But if friendship is one of the “fine things of this life,” then it is imperative for most people to have friends in order to feel truly fulfilled, even if it’s just one great friend. At times, we will have a great group of friends or a few friends, and these dynamics will shift throughout our lives. The reality is that most of us will have many friends in our lifetime, some for our whole lives, others coming and going.

In short, friendships play an important role in our lives. They are an aspect of fulfillment. Friendship is not a cure-all to our ailments, but it is a beginning. A friend is not someone to be seen as utility or someone to be used, but someone to share life with and sharpen one another.

We are beings of connection and community.

The presence of another holds an importance. Some people are more social than others, but nonetheless, some kind of interaction with others is important for all of us. We all desire to be a part of something in some way even if it is not for long periods of time.

To have a life with others, to have a friend or friends, is a finer thing of this life.

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