Jo Jordan, South Australia and Northern Territory Regional Meeting
On Thursday 5th October I took part in a panel presentation followed by audience participation on “The Future of Friendship” organised by Moira Deslandes at The Jade, a small entertainment venue in Adelaide. It was one of the events in the the Adelaide Open State Festival, “a festival of collaboration, innovation, ideas and enterprise” from 28th September to 8th October 2017. There were about 40 people in the audience. Miranda, a musician, performed a piece of music on the guzheng, a Chinese Zither, at the conclusion of the evening.
The three panelists, Lauren, Nicholas and I, were asked open questions about friendship by Kate Simpson, a local social worker. Each of us spoke from our own experience, as a teacher, a zoo worker and a Quaker. Respect, openness and trust emerged as central values to the formation of good connections and friendships with others, whether they were children, animals or people.
Digital technology has brought an additional dimension to friendships. Online friends may be no more than acquaintances, however these may deepen and strengthen with face to face meetings. I was reminded of the statement quoted in Quaker Faith and Practice about the purpose of Yearly Meeting; “to see one another’s faces and open our hearts one to another in the Truth of God once a year.” There is no doubt that deep and loving friendships are formed and maintained at each Yearly Meeting.
As a civil celebrant I discovered that most couples who plan to marry met for the first time online. When couples later choose to spend time on the phone and share conversation face to face the friendship may develop and grow into a strong, loving partnership and marriage.
There was agreement among panel members and audience that strong friendships are important to our physical and emotional wellbeing, particularly during times of crisis and the absence of family members. True friends share openly about things that matter to them, they feel safe about opening their hearts, minds and their imaginations to each other. A friend is able to listen attentively to what is said as well as what is not said. We gain strength from our friendships and also learn about ourselves in the process. Each friendship contributes to who we are.
From Advices and Queries: Do you cherish your friendships so that they grow in depth and understanding and mutual respect? In close relationships we may risk pain as well as finding joy. When experiencing great happiness or great hurt we may be more open to the working of the Spirit.”
We discussed how friendships may take place in future. How might they be different? If the casual work environments and long working hours continue, friendships between co-workers may be harder to form and to maintain. There may be fewer opportunities for joining interest groups or working together as volunteers on projects. Nevertheless, we have seen the recent success of community gardens which bring together people from different cultures and generations where supportive friendships are formed.
Quakers, on the whole are a fairly undemonstrative and introverted lot. They may call themselves Friends, but are they really very friendly? Visiting Friends sometimes say that they don’t often experience a warm welcome on arrival at a new meeting. However, over the past 40 years, I have learnt that, despite the understated welcome, there is a genuine, heartfelt interest and acceptance of each person who takes part in meeting for worship.
The panelists were each asked what they had gained from the organisations they represented. I spoke about the courage I have gained from my involvement with Quakers. The experiences which come from raising a family and professional work have contributed too. But I believe that the openness, trust and respect that I found among Friends has given me the courage to be open to leadings of the Spirit, and to follow them, expecting the best.