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Gary Gems – January Ski and Contrition Edition

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“There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met.”– Jim Henson

I am blessed to have many “old friends”.

That’s one of the advantages of living in the same city all your life. It’s not unusual to run into a classmate at Home Depot or get an email from someone from my high school graduation class.  My friends and I shared the same classrooms, teachers and recesses. We played a reality version of snakes and ladders, climbing and sliding from grade to grade.

We were from different backgrounds and classes. But the classroom was a great equalizer. We shared each other’s achievements and failures, embarrassments and glories. Our small world included buddies and bullies, popular kids and nerds (before nerds ruled the world). Whatever the clique – and it could change from year to year – we had a history in common that would last a lifetime.

I lived in Montreal all my life and I travelled a lot, but Montreal is home. I only considered leaving once. It was after the 1976 election of the Parti Québecois and a lot of my friends moved away to Toronto. By 2001, 50% of mother-tongue anglophones had left the province.

Gary March Gems – The Old Friends Issue

As much as I love “change”, I admit to enjoying the familiarity of faces and geography I see every day. A sense of belonging comes with having driven and walked the same streets for over a half-century. The pandemic has pretty much extinguished any chance of running into a friend. But technology saves the day. Social media and web-conferencing apps like ZOOM give us a digital substitute for in-person meetings.

Do old friends make the best friends?

Is it possible to make new best friends once we’re fully formed adults with fully formed opinions? As soon as we were out of diapers, our parents set about to domesticate us. We were taught to socialize with others in daycare then in school. It was survival training.

As a business owner, I “networked” at conferences with hundreds of others. Some became dear friends. Through “Art for Healing”, I’ve connected with artists and medical professionals who inspired me and became role models. They and others I met later in life are friends. Every new friend I make is put into a compartment based on the context of how we met. There are my “work friends”, “art friends”, “dinner party friends” and “old friends”.

How many people do you consider “friends”?

Dunbar’s number

Gary March Gems – the Old Friends Issue

According to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, our brains have a limit on how many meaningful relationships we can keep track of. Dunbar says most people can have up to:

  • 5 intimate bonds: spouses, best friends, and so on
  • 15 close friends: people you trust and spend time with regularly
  • 50 friends: people you would invite to a personal event like a wedding or dinner
  • 150 casual friends: people you would invite to a big party

A recent survey seems to support Dunbar’s theory. Researchers found the average Facebook user

  • Has 155 friends on the platform
  • Only considers 43 contacts to be a genuine friend
  • Would only trust 4 of their Facebook friends in a crisis
We’re social animals and forming bonds with others is a fundamental need. During this pandemic, it’s important we reach out to as many friends as we can.
In last month’s Gems – The Lost Art of Saying Thank You Issue – I mentioned how important it is to recognize generousity. Everything that grows requires nourishment, friends are no different. If we take friendships for granted, they wither and exist only as shapeless mists in our memories.
Before we get to the gems, I have a little game for you. No prizes, just honour.
Can you pick me out from my grade five class photo? (Hint – I’m in the last row.) 
Gary March Gems – the Old Friends Issue

Here are some “friendly” gems to ponder over until next month. 

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