I imagine friendship as a commodity has always been an issue, but it is so much more apparent with the advent of social media. One thing is for sure: high-quality friendships are a blessing. And they are something worth investing in. How would you define that? We learn a lot about friendship in Scripture.
How many friends would you say you have? I read an article by Bec Crew a while back ago that challenged whether our friendships were as reciprocal as we think they are. He highlights a study revealing that the feeling is mutual with only about half of the people we think of as friends:
Led by researchers from MIT, the study analysed friendship ties in 84 subjects aged 23 to 38, who were taking part in a business management class.
The subjects were asked to rank how close they were with each person in the class on a scale of 0 to 5, where 0 means “I do not know this person,” 3 means “Friend,” and 5 means “One of my best friends.”
The researchers found that while 94 percent of the subjects expected their feelings to be reciprocated, only 53 percent of them actually were.
The study is of course limited because of its tiny sample size, but as Kate Murphy reports for The New York Times, the results are consistent with data from several other friendship studies from the past decade, comprising more than 92,000 subjects, that put reciprocity rates at 34 to 53 percent.
This perception gap when it comes to friendship hints at a number of pretty significant problems, from our inability to clearly define friendship and the impact this could have on our own self-image, to us having the wrong idea about the kind of people who could actually affect social change.
While one of the team, computational social science researcher Alex Pentland, suggests that this inability to read people is largely due to us desperately trying to maintain a favourable self image – “We like them, they must like us.” – the concept of friendship is actually really difficult to define.
I would hope that the older people in the study faired better in the perception gap. My teenage daughters have been learning a lot about this very issue. After reading the article I asked myself who I thought my friends were, and began to write down some names. It was interesting to see how many married couples I wrote down together. I was trying to only write down names of people I thought would mutually write my name down on their list. I have to say that I quit because the act of writing my friends names on paper felt very cheapening to our relationship. But it became clear to me that the size of the list would change dramatically depending on the way I defined friendship. I wonder how the study above would have been affected if the categories were more clearly defined between 0 and 5.
For instance, I have a decent amount of people for whom I have affection for and enjoy their presence. But the amount would be reduced by other factors like, people I would share private concerns with, or people I would ask for an inconvenient favor from. Notice I said would there, and not could. That may say more about me than them, but still affects the amount.