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  • Kim

How healthy is your friendship tree?

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

I've begun listening to a Mel Robbins' podcast titled, "Start Here." It's rather like a Cliff Notes presentation of motivational talks. The program covers 13 topics like happiness, friendship, anxiety, family, etc. in short 30 minute or less increments, which is just about the limit of the attention span of this visual learner. As a matter of fact, I've had to restart several sections in the series a couple of times due to inattention and distraction. It's not that the episodes are boring, as they're very insightful and though-provoking. It's because my monkey mind rarely gives itself over freely to auditory learning. So, it may take me multiple attempts to hear the message.

In the second episode in the series titled, "Friendship," Mel talks about the importance of friendships and puts the term into perspective. "It's not the quantity of the friendships that matter. It's the quality of friends you have that matter," she says. That's a really profound statement. In this age of social media, many people find their validation through the number of Facebook friends they've amassed. The word "friend" was even redefined with the creation of Facebook and other social media apps. What is your definition of a friend? Have you ever stopped to think about the "friends" that are on your Facebook account? How many of them are really just acquaintances with special privilege to view certain events in your life? How many of the people on that list would you be able to maintain a meaningful conversation with if seated next to them at dinner? How many of the people on that list truly care about you? About your life? Perhaps, it's time to take a closer look at the list.

As most of us know, a lot of friendships have been sorely stressed during this past year's lockdowns. However, now is when we need our friends more than ever. We all know the importance of having friends. It's intuitive to find solace and comfort in our relationships with others. We're a social animal. According to research, having one or more close friends can increase your longevity. It's also important to realize that friendships come in all different sizes and flavors and one-size doesn't fit all. In her talk, Mel's describes the different kinds of friendships and the importance of each kind. She talks about their subsequent ebb and flow and even their "death." She helps us to understand that, just because a friendship dies doesn't mean either person was a bad friend. Perhaps the basis for the friendship has ceased to be or the friendship just lived out its life cycle. She uses a very effective analogy of a tree with branches, leaves, and roots to describe the three different kinds of friendship. Throughout her talk, I could identify people in my life that corresponded to a branch, a leaf, or a root. It was very enlightening.

Depending on where you are in your life, your tree may be full, bare, or somewhere in between. It could be in spring mode, budding with new relationships that will grow into full, robust leaves. Or, it could be in a winter phase, dropping its leaves for a resting phase. It might be tall and full or short and spindly. It may be well-tended or struggling. Some people are extroverts and having a large, full tree may be very important to them. Those people are okay with and actually thrive on the enormous amount of energy that maintaining such a tree requires. But then, there are those of us who are rather introverted, whose tree may resemble the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. That's okay too. Despite the size of your tree, my impression from Mel's description is that it's the health of your tree that matters most.

If you think about how to grow and maintain a healthy tree, then you must consider the root system. One method of determining the health of your tree’s roots is to ask a very important question. Mel calls it the "magic question", which is: "Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at 4 o'clock in the morning to tell your troubles to?" Actually, it's rather a trick question. As you must listen carefully to the exact wording to truly understand the importance of the answer. Many of us have friends that we could call at 4:00 a.m. if there was an emergency. Not many people you know would deny you during an emergency. But, do you have a person in your life that you could call at that hour if you just needed to talk? Those people are usually in the roots of your tree. You may not interact very often or maybe only on social media. You may not even live in the same State. But, those are the people who would be there for you in an instant at any hour. And, most likely, you'd be there for them just as quickly - without hesitation. Some of us are fortunate to have partners that fit that description and, instead of a phone call, get a gentle nudge asking them to wake, listen, and provide consolation. But, there are many people who don't have a partner. Additionally, some people's partner may not be that friend (that's a whole other conversation probably reserved for Episode 5 or 8). However, it's very important to have at least one person whom you can call. Mel calls that person your "4 a.m. friend," and, according to her, that friendship is the most important one of all. The 4 a.m. friends are friends for a lifetime. Your life may depend on having such a friend.

As with all healthy life cycles, the leaves and branches on your friendship tree will sprout, grow, wither, break and fall. Hopefully, you've been able to cultivate your tree with some tender gardening and judicious pruning. This past year has truly been one filled with challenges as well as opportunities for reflection for all of us. Many friendships have been tested. Some have survived. Some have not. Some are merely in hibernation due to limited energy reserves. Many of us have faced some difficult trials and tribulations. Unfortunately, I believe there are many more to come. Fortunately, however, we don't have to face them alone. Weathering those difficult times are reserved for that 4 a.m. friend that lives in the root of your tree. I hope one or more of them have come to your mind as you've read this blog. If not, it might be time to evaluate the health of your tree or, perhaps, plant a new one.

"A tree with strong roots laughs at storms." - Malay Proverb


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