Friday, September 19, 2014

Let's be friends?

There's a post about hippos in the works, dear fans.  Never fear, it will come sooner or later.

But, today I'd like to talk about friendship.  I'd like to talk about what it means to me, what it means today, and what it used to mean.  

Friendship, to me, is sort of an ethereal concept.  I've always found it hard to define what makes up a friendship, and who my friends were.  This may have been influenced by a somewhat lonely childhood, when, (due to a variety of factors) my closest friends were books.  I loved to read, and I still do.  I found friends in the characters in these books, and I don't mean that metaphorically.  I actually imagined that I could talk to them and that they could talk to me, and I was with them when I read the books that they were in.  I suppose that they were a sort of imaginary friend for me, though conceived more in the imaginations of the authors than in my own.  It was because of this that I struggled with the definition of what a friend was.  Because I never did all the things that I imagined myself doing in my fantasy books with other kids my age, I supposed that I they weren't really "friends.

I've grown now, and I think I know much better what a friend is.  This is largely due to one of my first friends who reached out to me, a boy named Eric Allen.  He came and sat with me when I ate my lunch, and we talked.  I had, as a principle, dined alone in the past, and I was not keen on conversing at the beginning.  But, he recognized the solitude in me and decided that he could help.  He did.  By the time I left high school, I had a small but steady group of friends.  

A friend is someone that you can talk to, someone who is willing to listen to you.  A friend is someone who will come and help you out when your car battery is dead, who will sympathize when you break up with your first girlfriend/boyfriend, who will even cry with you.  A true friend is a rare thing.  

Which brings me to my second point.  What is friendship today?  I was on Facebook the other day, and saw many of my friends who have friend lists that are in the thousands.  

"Wow," I thought, "They must really be awesome, popular people.  I wonder how many friends I have..."


At first, I felt a little dismayed, almost embarrassed.  I mean, I only had a fraction of the friends that they had.  I considered my list of friends, and admitted that far too many of them would be more aptly described as acquaintances, and that I stay in contact with far too few.  Before I sank too far into my general gloom of friendship-failure, I took a moment to think about it.  

What is a friend?  How many of these people am I truly friends with?  I read this article which talked about the study of an Oxford Professor, Robin Dunbar, who suggests that the maximum number of "friends" that we can have is 150.  The whole article is very good, and I'd suggest that you read it, but my point is this; most of the people that you are "friends" with on Facebook aren't really your friends.

Now, before you get out your torches and pitchforks, hear me out.  I'm not trying to insult you or say that all your friendships are built on lies or anything like that.  I'm simply implying that the term friendship can only really be applied to a relatively small number of people.  There are other words for the other people in our lives, such as acquaintances, colleagues, classmates, companions, comrades.  You could check a thesaurus and find even more.

The use of the term "friend" on Facebook is worrisome because it is changing the very definition of what a friend is.  Originally, the word comes from a verb in Old English that means to love or to favor.  Lover has taken on a different connotation in our day, so that's not really appropriate to use with many people (at least, not from my old fashioned point of view), but friend was the word that invoked that sense of love, of loyalty, of deep companionship.  So a friend was something more than the sister of my former roommate's cousin.  I've been reading a lot of classic literature for my classes, and people died for their friends, and did so gladly.  Achilles and Patroclus, Heracles and Hylas, Beowulf and Wiglaf.  That is what being a friend was in their time, and I think that it should be something more like that today.

Now, I don't want you to go and terminate your friendship with anyone who would not take a spear for you and die in your arms, because chances are you don't have that many people who would do that for you.  And if you do, congratulations!  You're one of the lucky few.  I just want to re-emphasize what being a friend really means so that we aren't completely caught in this idea that friendship is a tenuous digital connection whose meaning is encapsulated in the click of a button accepting an invitation to be someone's friend.

So, let's be friends.  Or let's be acquaintances, or peers, or relatives, or whatever it may be.  But let's also understand what that really means.  

(But hey, what do I know about all this?  I'm just a panda.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Never Forget

Well, there goes that muse again, ranting and wailing and generally making a mess of herself until I finally say, "Alright!  Alright, I'll write it."

I know that I just posted earlier today, and I even promised much more amusing posts in the future on very interesting subjects.  But, as I traverse that Internet as I am wont to do, I have seen many different reactions to the passing of September 11th, a day that has gone down in history as an incredibly tragic day.  (I know that it was yesterday, but hear me out)  

As I observed the opinions of others and their arguments, whether sympathetic, apathetic, or just pathetic, I noticed a few common threads.  First, people tend to begin with describing where they were when it happened and how they felt.  I shall follow suit.  

I was young when it happened, only 9.  I remember that I was in my 4th grade class when the planes hit.  Class was immediately suspended, and the teacher turned on the TV.  Normally, some students would have taken advantage of this moment to chatter to each other, but I distinctly remember the silence.  It was as if we could sense in the air that something immense and terrible was going on. 

By my perception, the 3000 people that died was an enormous amount, almost incomprehensible. Now, though, I read many opinions that wonder why this event is so remembered, since so many more people have died in the War on Terror, the Holocaust, etc.  I want to focus on the most recent events in particular, because we could continue for quite a while about the horrors of wars long past.  

OK, get ready for some approximations.  Between 2003 and 2011, there were approximately 120,000 civilian deaths, depending on where you get your facts.  (That's an average, folks)  So, the amount of deaths from the attacks on Sept. 11th equal approximately 2.5% of the civilian deaths from the War on Terror.  

Is it, then, inconsequential in the face of so many more deaths?  No, of course not.  But why, you might ask, are the other deaths not getting the same kind of attention?  Timing, I think.   

We have roughly 100,000 hairs on our heads.  If I lost 100 hairs a day to a drastically receding hairline, then in about 3 years I'd be completely bald.  But, if I lost 2500 hairs in a single day, my hair lose would be much more noticeable.  That's the idea at work here; it's not the math, it's the sensation.  Any hair loss is lamentable, but rapid and sudden hair loss is memorable.  

Humanity is general is fairly hardened to everyday statistics, no matter how horrible they may be.  This is understandable, since I personally can hardly sympathize with and understand the thousands of ways that humans are dying this very minute across the planet.  It's just too much for a single mind to comprehend.  But what we can comprehend is a single event, a moment when through a series of fateful choices, many lives were lost.  That's why we still remember this day, just as we remember Pearl Harbor, and Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and any number of other horrible days.

In conclusion, I do not intend to diminish or cheapen the lives of those who died on September 11th or those who have died throughout the recent wars.  They are all humans, and therefore of inherent worth.  What I attempt is only an explanation of my perception of human nature, and why people act how they act on days like these.

May we never forget all the innocent lives that have been lost in our troublesome times.  

A Beginning, of sorts.

Well, this is strange, to say the least.  What has led me to found my very own blog, you ask?  Me, a humble panda of equally humble thought?  Well, perhaps it would be, in part, peer pressure.  Joining the English Society showed me many of my peers that had blogs, and when I researched it I found out that it's not nearly as hard as you'd think. You just fill out some rather tedious paperwork, contact the right people, sacrifice three baby seals on a moonless night, and voilá!  You've got a blog.  

(I jest, of course.  The paperwork was quite lovely, nothing tedious about it.)  

So I suppose the question at the moment is, "That's all very well and good, Mr. Panda, but what exactly are you going to write about?"  And the answer?  I'm not entirely sure at the moment.  Now, as evidenced by the title of this blog, I imagine that I will write about things that I think about that come up in life.  Perhaps something about my life in particular, or something about life in general.  I like to think that (being nothing more than a simple panda) I will be able to rationally and amusingly muse on some of the most important questions in our lives, such as "Why, if Nutella is so good, are there are so few other things made out of hazelnuts?" or even "A narrative on the unappreciated dangers of the African hippopotamus."  

Stay tuned.  I plan to update at least once a week, perhaps more if my must is particularly noisome.  This is not the first beginning of a blog, nor will it be the last.  

But it is a beginning.