It’s when you make friends that’s all-important

Keith Hudson

When I was a young man in my mid-30s I was involved in seeking to get some environmental legislation passed with the help of older man, Noel Newsome, then in his early 70s.   When we’d prepared a Report  . . . and sent it to the appropriate government department, and we’d both negotiated with the top civil servant of the Department of the Environment and also the junior  Minister concerned.  We’d also been fortunate enough in having our findings shown in documentaries on two television channels and we knew that public opinion was building up.  We hadn’t had had much luck in getting MPs interested, however, particularly with any MP who could sponsor legislation.  In short, we were floundering a bit

But this was when my colleague brought some ‘heavies’ on our side to give a final heave.  Noel had been an Oxford undergraduate in his youth 50 years previously, and some of his friends of that time were now members of the House of Lords.  We travelled to London to meet them.  It was these three who finally got the Department of the Environment to take the matter seriously and to start framing legislation.

Why had they helped him?  Obviously, they were still friends even they hadn’t met Noel for many decades, but their lives were now so different that they didn’t have any direct interest in what Noel told them, and were certainly under no obligation.

They helped him because friendships made in adolescent years, up to about the age of 30 or so, are very different from friendships made earlier or later.  Few of us can remember more than one or two individual friends we made before puberty.  But we can all remember a whole cluster of friends made in our 15 to 30 years age bracket.  Friendships made during that period are between individuals of like interests and transactional relationships are not involved — such as when we borrow a lawn mower from a neighbour knowing that we’ll have to pay back in kind sooner or later,. With friendships made in adolescence and early adulthood help is given freely with no obligations.

What’s the reason for these special friendships made during the 15 to 30 years period?   It’s because our frontal lobes are growing and developing fast.  Millions of new neurons are being created and thousands of new networks are developing.  Stimulated by newly arriving sexual hormones, our brains are now getting ready for the more rigorous requirements of the adult world.  All the basic skills — mathematical, musical, manual, linguistic, social abilities, etc  — have already been laid down in the rear cortex before puberty.  After puberty, we have great difficulty in learning brand new skills.  But, from then on, what our frontal lobes are doing are practising those basic skills in new, much more sophisticated ways for the much more competitive world of adulthood.

And among those are the skills of socialization. These involve making discerning friendships and enjoying them.  What we do is to entertain and help our friends in the growth of their adult personalities and vice versa.  These are transactional relationships too,  but,  as yet, at an instinctual level.  Nevertheless, they have been created and will, more usually than not, obtain for life.  These reciprocal relationships will always have something special about them even if many other friendships are made later in life. You can usually ask for something that little bit special which you can’t ask from friends made later in mid-life..

The old saying: “It’s not what you know, but who you know”, is not really the whole story.  It’s also when you knew them that can be vitally important.

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