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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Are we really good and socially responsible friends? (Originally published April, 2011).

There is a question that has been on my mind for quite some time. That question has been what distinguishes our friends from our peers, and should we practice social responsibility towards our friends ? At times, there are many people who can not distinguish between their friends and peers, though the definition of friendship varies from how the world describes it, definitions of how we define our peers stay some what the same. I remember once picking up a sociology textbook that first year university students use for intro to the subject and came across a textbook definition of what a peer is. Based on that text book, our peers are defined some what as people we know, we get along with and people we socialize or interact with. Sounds like the definition of a 'friend', but surely friendship and friends carry a different meaning, otherwise the two words would not be in existence or would be merely used inter changeably.

Friendship in order to distinguish itself incorporates characteristics that differ from those we associate with our peers.  Friendship incorporates additional values such as empathy, honesty, mutual understanding (which is common with peers also), trust, positive reciprocity as well as an element of social responsibility. The social responsibility that I speak off comprises of only not only how socially responsible we are, towards our friends, but also how pro active we are in instilling  a sense of social responsibility in them, whether that social responsibility is towards other people they know, or the wider community at large. In other words, a socially responsible friend is one who is not only a good, reliable and responsible friend towards us on an individual level, but is also one that communicates a sense of socially responsible behavior in us. One might argue that as mature adults, many of us are capable of thinking independently on our own and be in a position to distinguish between right and wrong, and that we do not need our friends or peers or who ever to be telling us what to do and what not to do, what is right or what is not? These are some of the countless arguments that one can expect people to give.

To put it simply what I am really trying to say is that what distinguishes our friends from our peers is that they are not reluctant to re assure us when we are correct, yet at the same time neither are they reluctant to criticize us or condemn us when we are walking down the wrong path or following a set of behavior or actions that are questionable, socially irresponsible or even just down right wrong. It is human nature, that we through out the course of our life, especially during early adulthood, we want a sense of continuous assurance from people in our lives especially those whom we see as our friends, with regards to what our plans in life are, and what course of action we choose to follow.  We want people, who we see as our friends to unconditionally support us regardless or whether we are right or wrong and/or look the other way when we are doing something wrong. Though different people have different thresholds for criticism coming from others, when it comes from our friends, or when our friends tell us what we are doing is wrong has an entirely different effect on us. One possible reason for this could be a level of emotional connection that we have with them, a sort of memorandum of understanding that has been built over time. Has it ever occurred to us, that it is only our friends who will communicate this to us, if we are genuinely truly doing something wrong, while our peers would not even think twice about what we are or are not doing?

Why is it that we forget that is our friends and not our peers at the end of the day, who come to our aid in times of need, in times when we are at our worst, times when life turns it's back on us and not necessarily the people we socialize with. So why should be reluctant to listen to our friends when they are giving us genuine advise and most importantly why should we hold ourselves when our friends are doing something wrong. It is not uncommon that we over the years growing up, witness our friends do questionable things before us, even though it might cause us minor disappointment deep down inside, out of possible fear of repercussion or loss of acquaintance holds us back. How many of us have seen our friends cheat in final exams, break the law, bully, abuse, harass and carry out targeted discrimination towards others. How many times, have we seen our friends use and exploit others, how many times have we seen our friends mistreat others, how many times have we seen our friends become victims of drug and alcohol abuse? How many times have we seen one friend of ours mistreat and exploit another friend? How many times have our sense of favoritism amongst friends cloud our objectivity and social responsibility? Just How many times?

One of the most famous human rights activists of the 20th Century, the late Martin Luther King Jr who led the famous civil rights movement in the United States once said ' Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter'. If we look back and reflect on life, the frequency of us witnessing such events over our lives would be substantial. We should take this opportunity to reflect back on just how good of a friend have we been to our friends and how often have we been silent where we should say something