A year ago or so, very few of us were familiar with the concept of social distancing. We could not even contemplate it as a possible option. In the midst of the pandemic, social distancing became a painful ‘new normal’, a necessary step in the fight against the virus. For many of us, virtual spaces became the only forum for human interaction, both in our personal and professional lives. However, the promising land of social platforms, with countless friendships one-click-away, has failed to meet our fundamental human need for connection. On the contrary. New figures released this week show that loneliness in Europe has doubled and young adults are the loneliest among all age groups. (New report: Loneliness in Europe).
This is why today, on the International Day of Friendship, we have more reasons than ever to stop and reflect on the value and fragility of friendship, and remind ourselves what it really means. This is a day to recognize the importance of friendship as the true reflection of our shared humanity, as a building block of peace.
Friendship is about mutual understanding, empathy and kindness, honesty and trust, solidarity and support - ingredients with transformative powers not just in our individual lives but in our communities, societies and the world at large. In fact, these are all aspects that can make the difference between war and peace.
During the pandemic, armed conflicts have continued to rage while insecurity persists on all continents. In a world of division and distrust, listening to someone with empathy may be the ineffable tool that opens the way to conciliation. In the current context, where correct information is vital to public health, the viral spreading of false stories and disinformation can create distrust, confusion, and put us all at risk. But we have a powerful tool to fight disinformation: talk to our friends, exchange reliable data and news, help each other to overcome concerns and build trust.
We should not underestimate the rippling effects that our individual choices can have. If we recognise that a better world starts with each of us, these are indeed the first steps at the start of a journey to a better world - one that is kind, fair and safe.
Happy Friendship Day!