A Friendship Treaty for a Prosperous and Peaceful World

Reflections on the occasion of World Friendship Day 2023

racism black and white                                                               

WE all yearn for true friendship and how many of us have friends whose association goes back to our school or college days. There are stories of friends whose respect and commitment towards each other transcends ties of blood and simply material things of life. Enduring friendships may be defined by and founded upon the ideals and shared beliefs that weld society together. What uniquely defines the human experience is the transcendent components of life. It is this dimension of existence that enriches, ennobles and sustains relationships among human beings. It is this dimension of life that unlocks the creative capacities within human consciousness and safeguards human dignity. Human spirit develops only where considerable numbers of people express friendliness and work together for common ends. Such unity is brought about, not so much by community of bare ideas as by community of feelings by which ideas are “emotionalized” and become beliefs and motives. Persons who refuse to be educated by ideas are being educated by events. A lot of the youth and even mature adults a trapped by superficial attachments. The story of the universe vis-à-vis human beings is the unfolding of the consciousness of friendliness. It starts by taking an interest in other people. Friendships don’t just happen—it requires effort and positivity. Many people are shy and need a very friendly person to go out of their way before they feel comfortable. Friendliness attracts people and allows them to get to know you and you to know them.  Without friendliness people keep to themselves and have no one to feel close to or to share with. This is so true of our younger generations. Their best friends are their smart phone and technological gadgets. Rejecting the glitter and glamour of the tinsel world let them scale the ascending heights of excellence in all they aspire to do; be it the schools they attend or the institutions of higher learning; in their work place, spaces of entertainment.

In the West often I have observed humans are closer to their pets than to members of their family or even the community. The loss of human touch has resulted in mental stress, loneliness, depression and falling prey to harmful habits including of consumption of alcohol and drugs. When something good happens to a person, or something bad, it feels good to share those feelings with another person and this is possible when there is a friend. Unless a person is friendly people start thinking you don’t like them or care about them. A person can be friendly by just walking down the hall of the school, and by looking into the faces and smiling at them. These in turn would probably smile back.

Here is an example of life’s lesson in friendliness that helped overcome many barriers for real friendships among total strangers. Narrated in first person, this is how ABSHIR, a Somalian student, as a result of a friendly gesture by an unprejudiced white student, finally summons up great courage to embrace his fellow students from different racial background in a great embrace of friendship:

“I saw him from the corner of my eye. He was sipping a coke and looking out of the window. There was a faraway look into emptiness. Next morning, I saw him again alone and the next and the next. I wanted to go up to him and actually did when I heard a voice behind me ‘Hi Nigger”. “I turned. It was a white freshman. He seemed arrogant seated with a group of his friends. They were all looking in my direction. “What was I doing wrong?’ “Getting fresh with a nigger?” someone called out. Boldly, I turned around. Many faces one voice: ‘Nigger’!

“It triggered something within me. I went and sat opposite Abshir. ‘Mind if I join you?’ ‘No’, he looked surprised. We chatted. I got to know him better. It was his first stance at the university. His parents had worked hard to pay for him, so he could be in the U.S. and some day they may visit him. He wanted to meet their expectations but felt lonely and often wanted to revert to Somalia. “I often wonder, what you think when gazing out of that window.” I said. I see my home, my sister still in school, my father coming home tired and mum giving him a hot cocoa. His eyes had a distant look of Somalia. They were deep set and held a secret. There was something very attractive about them, almost mystic. I wanted to know him better. We attended a few same classes. He was always polite, never cursed, always hesitant if he was doing the right thing. He would look for approval and often meet and ignore, a sly look or a laugh. Living on the edge was not easy. I could see his volatile expressions settle into a daydream. What was he dreaming about? I wondered. We became friends. I had him read to me in the evenings, and whenever possible I tried including him in my evening walks.

“We began to be noticed. Slurs were hurled silently in the cafeteria. No one called him a nigger now. Yet, their glances said it all. I saw he felt them like silent slaps. I felt his sensitivity, his resilience. Next morning in the dining room a thought came to me. “You see that group at the dining table. ‘Yes’, he said, ‘what about them’. ‘Well go up to them and say: I have something for you.’ ‘But I have nothing,’ he murmured. ‘Yes, you do.’

‘What?’ he asked. I gave him a hug then, and another and another, to boost his confidence. ‘This is what you must give each of them. Let’s see their reaction.’ ‘But I can’t do that,’ he said shyly. ‘Why not?’ I asked ‘They don’t accept me.’ ‘I am not welcome.’ ‘Who says?’ ‘Maybe this is what their parents did not give them. There is a great need for this.’ ‘But from me?’ ‘Yes, from you to break the barrier.’ Please… for me do that.’

“It took me some goading and it took him immense courage to gear up to this physical contact. Feeling like a Cheer leader, my eyes were locked on his moves. ‘Come on, you can do it. Quick before they leave.’ I hurried my words. ‘This is the way you Will make a difference.’ Rising from his seat slowly, he gave me one long look and walked towards the group with hastening steps, ready for action. They were unaware at first, they saw his lanky figure and wondered: “What on earth…?” I saw their gaping mouths open in disbelief as he approached them. They became cautious not knowing how to react, ‘what was he coming for?’ The word ‘Beware’ was writ large on their faces as he came closer. It was a scene from a film. ‘Ready… shoot…. Take… Cut.’ I could feel him sweating from where I was, but I also found him determined to break the ice, to pave a way, to make a change. One of them stood up ready for a fight. Then Abshir did the incredible, what some called ‘inappropriate’. He put his arms around the white standing figure and hugged him tight. ‘Friend’ he called out. He did the same to others who stood up one by one reluctantly, fists ready for a fight. Then opening up with disbelief. Each got a hug, and each was addressed as ‘friend’.

‘Congratulations!’ My heart rejoiced at the congratulatory message of having non-violently made a difference to their indifference. His face was innocent. Long tapering fingers of an artist had carved a place for themselves in the broad trajectory of human endeavour. He was looking to me for a pat on the back or was I looking for one from him. We laughed in cordiality. Next day in class there was laughter, but not aimed at Abshir. It was at the inanity of assumptions, discrimination, and anxiety. The ring of this inclusive laugh tolled loud as did the chapel bells. We all walked in for a service together happy at having broken a barrier. It had been education of the heart.

Today the world is increasingly getting polarized. Rather than remaining mute spectators in the global unfolding drama, unable to agree on directions that humanity should take, we the peoples of the world, like Abshir, in a spirit of friendship must rise above conflicting loyalties and collectively commit ourselves to tackling the slew of crises that threaten our very existence. All the wonderful knowledge enshrined in thousands upon thousands of documents, research papers, books and articles, Wikipedia and the digital world are of no use if we can’t act as friendly human beings. Mutual and positive engagement as observed in many societies during the global health pandemic caused by Covid-19 or when a country is struck by natural disasters, has shown the spirit of altruism in every human being. Why wait for disasters to strike us? My humble plea on the occasion of the United Nations International Day of Friendship is that human spirit years for friendly relationships we can bridge divides, overcome misconceptions, promote cooperation for peace and harmony everywhere. Young people, as future leaders, can become the best exemplars of lasting friendships.

*The author is a social worker, independent researcher, serving a number of governmental and non-governmental bodies. Views expressed are personal.


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