Thursday, August 20, 2009

That's What Friends Are For

"Friendship is a thing neccessary to life since without friends no one would choose to live, though possessed of all other advantages." — Aristotle
In the past few months I've struggled with this question: why have my old classmates all gone insane? Whenever one of them finds me on that silly Facebook, I discover a profile full of links to Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and pro-torture social groups. It's downright scary. But then I think about it and I realize that, outside of Facebook, it's really not normal to advertise your extreme political beliefs.

The Boston Globe explains why in an enlightening article on how our closest acquaintances are nearly strangers to us -- and that might not be so bad.

After all, our real-life social interactions are meant to establish rapport and to bond -- not data mine. In fact, when friends interact, they misread entire regions of each others' personalities. Too often we just assume our friends agree with us.

I try not to make such assumptions myself, but I've been in those socially awkward situations where a long-time friends assumes I hate Clinton, or immigrants or fuel-efficient cars. Like a zap of electricity, the differences in our convictions strikes both of us at once.

Here is another important point from The Boston Globe article:
Indeed, according to Michael Norton, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Business School, simply believing we have lots of close friends brings the same benefits as actually having them. In other words, if someone’s ignorance of one of his “friends” extends so deeply that he’s not actually aware that the person doesn’t like him, he may be better off for it. Even befriending entirely fictional people seems to do some good - a paper published last year by researchers at the University of Buffalo and Miami University found that television characters actually function as “social surrogates” for viewers, and watching a favorite show can be an effective way to alleviate loneliness.
Hmm... I think too many people are alleviating their loneliness with Glenn Beck.

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