I was raised a friendship skeptic. Work, study, and career came first; a notion instilled in me from a very young age. Friendship was no more than an accessory, nice if you had it, but other priorities were far more important. It took me decades to learn I had been taught a lie. Friendship had plans for me, to ensure I would see it very differently to how I had known, read, heard about, or witnessed. It forced me to see what I didn’t want to see, then gave me compelling reasons to share.
It would be fair to say, friendship had not been kind for most of my life. Difficulty making friends in primary school then years of being ostracized in high school, weeks when I couldn’t walk the school yard without being called names, was devastating at times and often left me feeling sad and alone, an alien among colleagues and peers. But being friendship’s pariah meant extra hours in the library, and eventually saw me accepted into medicine. By the time I was in my second year of post-graduate training – to become a medical specialist – I was struck by a profound depression that had dogged me on and off for many years. The intense and prolonged low mood threatened my life. My solution was extreme, but I felt driven to try it, no matter the personal cost. It was also pivotal in beginning to see friendship as I never imagined.
I had a promising medical career in front of me, but it meant nothing, not if I felt like this. So, I resigned, isolated myself in a one-bedroom rental in Sydney, and over many months strived to find a sense of all-knowing that I intuitively believed would liberate me. Facing my deepest fears and emotional pains, immersing myself in them, stepping past them, crying many times, within months I finally found what I was after. Part of what I discovered can vaguely be described as a way to understand myself and the world from within, through a connection with all things found inside us, through feelings. It offered a completely new way of seeing the world, free from how I wanted or needed it to be and offered a set of practical tools for honest self-exploration. It was also a useful resource I would fall back on regularly.
Twelve months after resigning I finally returned to medicine as a Family Physician – General Practitioner, GP. Depression had left me; no longer was I dogged by profound sadness. Over time I felt more comfortable sharing some of what I learnt. To my surprise the insights gained on my internal quest helped others overcome depression and anxiety too. They even correlated well with many already known approaches. After years of refining the ideas and methods – treating some counselors, no less – I decided to share some of them in a book: A Balance of Self: A new approach to self understanding, lasting happiness, and self-truth.Whilst writing this book friendship began to reveal its deeper, fundamental, self; its role in making us feel satisfied as social beings – we will explore how soon. The real breakthrough came with writing my next book,The Fall and Rise of Women: How women can change the world.
As I researched I learnt women were once great supporters of each other, especially when we lived in peace as nomadic tribal people, but now, too commonly, they were acting more as competitors than friends; trying to have it all but attempting it alone, trying to appear successful, better than other women, yet left with impossible burdens. I noticed this all too frequently in my practice; in women suffering stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and low self-esteem. I wondered why, what had changed? What could drive women once supportive of each other, like a sisterhood, to become so combative and isolated? Then it became clearer; it wasn’t just women that had fallen – women were no longer treated with the respect they deserve, the premise behind the book – so had friendship.
Suddenly, as a GP, I could recognize it all around me. Evidence of friendship’s decline: among the lives of lonely and depressed patients, of families divided, children being bullied and ostracized at school, adults intimidated and disrespected at work, in relationships struggling, in the mothers pushed to breaking point and beyond trying to balance work with being a mum, among men and women competing and feeling stressed, lonely, and unsatisfied. In my privileged work as a GP, being able to peer intimately into the lives of so many people of different backgrounds, daily I was seeing emotional pains, struggles, and illnesses that were clearly a direct result of friendship’s decline; most avoidable or preventable. I could even begin to see evidence of the destructive effects of friendship’s decline globally (we will focus on some of this in a moment). I couldn’t believe it at first; could friendship be so critical?
Then came an even greater revelation that shocked me to my core, and still alarms me to this day.
Surprisingly, seeing friendship in this new way revealed evidence of a great malevolence that I had no idea existed. A creation inside us that could easily – since it has remained unrecognized, and unseen – completely overpower friendship, and by doing so wreak havoc around the world, as it has for millennia and now threatens the world today with war and global destruction. We will explore what this malevolence is, get just a glimpse of its immense destructive ability and how it negatively impacts all our lives, in the early chapters. When I realized the existence of such an insidious and malicious influence, and how we have been missing the obvious for so long, failing to recognize let alone work to contain it, I realized I needed to share, to offer it for consideration. Hence this book.
I should clarify. This is still primarily a self-help book. Its aim is to help us better understand friendship, to improve our relationships, families, and communities. It just so happens that by being better friends – satisfying basic friendship needs we will consider in a moment – we also do so much more socially, and globally.
Does this book claim to have all the solutions to life’s problems, or those of the world?
This book was written to share insights, opinions, and methods. It is just one approach to many of the problems we experience every day and seem powerless to fix. All the better if it stimulates some discussion and self-reflection about our choices; raises friendship and its potential into our consciousness to help clarify for us how we want to live and where we really want to be heading into the future. As a doctor I have had the honor of sharing and refining these methods and insights with others over many years; discussing and developing them into a practical form. Now, over 28 years since friendship began to reveal itself to me – during the months of my internal quest – I am privileged to be able to share them with you.
Looking back, I recognize that had I learnt but a fraction of what I am about to share with you none of the traumatic social events of my childhood would likely have happened – I would have been far better equipped to both understand and make friends. I know I would not have suffered depression, let alone needed to isolate myself to discover a sense of genuine self. I can see that if friendship had been a priority in our society and around the world before I was born not only most of my traumas could have been avoided, but so too those of most of the people I’ve met and see around me. Perhaps in this book’s sharing many others will not have to know so many unnecessary traumas either. I was reluctant to see it but now I have no doubts, seeing friendship in a new and practical way can offer us enormous potential for positive change. The question is: are we prepared to properly consider it, and take up its challenge?