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Friendship

by Matthew Arnold Stern

This is the seventh speech towards my second CTM. I gave it as an impromptu back-pocket speech at my home Toastmasters club on May 12, 2004 when the other speakers cancelled.

A couple things happened to me recently that made me think about friendship.

The first is that my high school class is planning our 25th reunion. We’re having an informal affair at a park in the San Fernando Valley where I grew up. We wanted a place where our kids can play while we reminisce and see how fat we’ve all become. As this reunion has started to take shape, I’ve gotten back in touch with people I haven’t heard from since graduation. It’s amazing to think how I used to see these people every day and got to know them well, but after we left school, we fell out of touch and didn’t see each other for decades.

The second happened to me as I was walking into the building for this meeting. As you know, I used to work for this company. In fact, my cubicle used to be upstairs in this building. But then, I got transferred to a department with evil management [big grin], and I left for another company. As I was walking into the building today, I passed by someone in Engineering with whom I used to work very closely. I don’t know if he just didn’t see me, or if he was focused on something else, but he walked by me as if I weren’t there. I was a ghost. [Like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense:] “I see dead people.”

I do stay in touch with a number of my former coworkers. The Documentation department I used to belong to was a tight-knit group, and we still exchange e-mails and meet for lunch on occasion. I suppose that one of the reasons that we stay so close is that none of us work at this company anymore.

These experiences made me think about the transient nature of friendship. Some people become your friends for life and others you know for a brief while and forget. Some friendships can withstand the natural turmoil of life, and some vaporize the moment circumstances change. How do you winnow out the friendships that last and the ones that don’t?

I believe there are two main attributes that make friendships strong and long-lasting.

The first is to find interests in common other than your immediate circumstances. In my old Documentation department, we shared a lot of different interests, such as our children, politics, books, and movies. One of my former coworkers is a member of this Toastmasters club, so we also have that to share. We had more in common than just the place we worked. So, when we no longer worked for the same company, we were still able to enjoy being with each other because we still had plenty of other shared interests.

The second is to make the commitment to stay connected. Even in this day of e-mail and instant messaging, it’s still very easy for people to lose contact and drift apart. You can’t just wait for the other person to reach you. You have to make the effort to stay in touch.

Loni is one of the people with whom I went to high school. As with most of my former classmates, I lost contact with her after graduation. We didn’t see each other until our 10-year reunion in 1989. Since then, we’ve made the effort to stay in touch. We’ve exchanged letters and shared about how our lives have changed as we started our respective families. Even though she and her family live in Florida, and we live in California, we still have a good friendship because we make the effort to stay connected.

Friendships don’t just happen. They take commitment and nurturing to strengthen and endure. Friendships are a give-and-take proposition. You have to be willing to put into them as much as you’re willing to receive.

Circumstances constantly change. People graduate. People change jobs. People move away. It’s very easy to let the people we care about slip away from us unless we are willing to make the effort to keep the friendship alive. We need to find more things in common than our immediate circumstances, and we need to make the commitment to stay in touch. If we are willing to put in the work, we can build friendships that endure.