Bernardo M. Villegas
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Making Real Friends in Facebook

           Once again, I am indebted to Colloquy, quarterly publication of the Gradual School of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University for its alumni, for a very insightful article reporting on the findings of a team of Harvard sociologists who addressed "one of the great unsolved puzzles of social science--do we form friendships with people because we share similar interests, or do we share similar interests with people because they are our friends?"  The answer is that peer influence may be far less compelling than the "likes" on a Facebook status might imply.

          The findings of the team led by PhD candidate Kevin Lewis are described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January 2012.  They suggest that people who share similar interests in music and movies are more likely to befriend one another.  Few interests, however, are likely to spread among friends.  These recent findings contradict earlier research, which found that a host of social problems, from obesity to smoking to loneliness, quickly spread across social networks.   Lewis, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, explains further his team's findings:  "The idea that 'birds of a feather flock together' is something we've known about for a long time.  It's not terribly surprising that, if you and I like the same things, we might become friends...What we've been able to show, however, is that this phenomenon is not actually as widespread as we once thought..  There are only certain types of tastes that breed a connection.  We're also finding that this very common notion that what your friends do and like rubs off on you is not very widespread at all..."

          These findings make me reflect on another reason why "it is more fun in the Philippines."  It is much easier for us Filipinos to strike an almost instant friendship with a stranger, including a foreigner.  In some cultures, it takes a long time to attain what the Greek philosophers called philia, the love of friendship, with another.  The reason is that in these cultures people are very reluctant to share intimate information about themselves with strangers.  In contrast, a typical Filipino can tell his whole life story to a person he meets for the first time on a plane or a train and expect the other to do likewise.  The first step to friendship is mutual information about one another.  The finding of common interests, backgrounds, and tastes follows logically.  If continuing contact is pursued for one circumstance or another, it becomes easier to nurture friendship on the basis of these common interests, backgrounds and tastes.  Friendship after all is seeking the good of others with whom we share mutual interests.  Such sharing of interests gives one pleasure and satisfaction.  Affection is the result of such warm feeling and satisfaction.

          It is notable that the Harvard research concluded that people who listen to classical or jazz music are likely to be friends.  This likelihood may not extend to interests which are less "spiritual" such as favorite dishes, sports or computer games.  Music has a way of soothing the spirit.  It may be concluded that the mutual interests that are more likely to foster deeper friendships are those that appeal to the spiritual longings of human beings, those related to religious beliefs and such noble ideals as the struggle for justice, the preservation of the family as the foundation of a society, the education of children, the protection of human life, the eradication of poverty and other aspirations for a more just and humane society. 

            The so-called Friends that one makes on Facebook are really no more than acquaintances.  If we want to graduate to real and lasting friendship with a fraction of the hundreds that most of us have as "friends" in a social network, let us explore the common interests we have, not only in music, but in even higher spiritual pursuits that can really last a lifetime.  Building a civilization  of love, protecting marriage as an inviolable institution, removing the scourge of abortion,  helping the underprivileged attain greater human dignity, etc.  can occupy us for the rest of our lives.  Those who share similar interests in these goals can, therefore, be our true friends, even if only in the internet.  Most of all, however, these are the ties that can bind us closer to the people who are physically close to us because they are our relatives, colleagues at work, fellow parishioners and fellow members of social clubs.  A friendship based on spiritual foundations is the most lasting.  For comments, my email address is