I’ve been thinking about friendships forged in the workplace. More specifically, I found myself thinking about my job history and my feelings about revisiting places where I have worked. I’ve had quite a few jobs in 45 years; many of them short term, leaving few memories. For instance, I can’t remember a single person I worked with in the drive-in movie theater in San Diego 40 years ago; not even a dimly recalled face. Then there are a number of jobs where I was the only employee, without colleagues to recall, only employers. Then there are the places where I actually did not like the people I worked with, which includes a couple of restaurants.
Not surprisingly, I made the strongest connections at the workplaces where I stayed the longest and stayed the longest at the workplaces where I enjoyed the best work relationships. Time is a huge factor in the building of these friendships; shared experiences form a bond that lays down neural pathways. That sounds wacky, but the more I read, here and there, about the brain, habits and behavior, the more it seems to me that our daily activities are always shaping and reshaping our brains. Be that as it may, I will not pretend to understand the rapidly expanding field of brain research; just sharing my gut response to what I read.
There are work friendships that rise beyond the shared experience bond. Sometimes there is just recognition of a kindred spirit. This awareness can be immediate, like a dazzling little burst of light. A few minutes chatting with someone makes the day go better or they are the one I turn to when there is ‘an issue’ on the job. Perhaps there is an occasional meeting for a meal outside of work, where personal lives are shared. Other times the camaraderie is revealed after leaving the job, when I find myself continuing to think of the individual and seek them out. In any case, those connections are a gift.
I’ve been reading a book called Soldier Girls by Helen Thorpe. The subtitle is: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War. As described by Doris Kearns Goodwin, an author whose work I admire tremendously, Soldier Girls “weaves together the stories of three very different but equally compelling women soldiers… [whose] stories provide an intimate window on life in the military, the impact of war and the difficult transition to home.” I wanted to read the book in order to gain some insight into the experiences of women serving in the military in Afghanistan and Iraq, something about which I feel woefully ignorant. My knowledge of those countries, their histories and the long-standing wars to which the U.S. continues to send troops is embarrassingly minute.
I have protested wars since the Vietnam era, while attempting to show support for ‘our troops’ when they are serving and thereafter as veterans. But really, I am shamefully out of touch and like most Americans, literally forget that these horrific conflicts are ongoing, with daily impact on tens of thousands of soldiers and their families. I am not proud of my ignorance. I am impressed that these women were willing to be so open and honest about their lives, thoughts and feelings, sharing their experiences with Thorpe. I am extremely grateful for their courage, as soldiers and as women.
The link with the topic of today’s post is that the friendships these women develop while in training and on active duty powerfully illustrate the bonding that arises from shared experience. These relationships sustain them in dramatic, stressful situations and in the humdrum of everyday activities. Their growth as individuals is shaped by the profound impact of helping each other survive. The caring and affection they display toward each other is enormous and inspiring. Their commitment to each other is deep, real and lasting and it’s also true that they suffer disconnection from each other when they return to the U.S. and struggle to re-enter their civilian lives. It’s a case of Both/And.
There is so much to learn; so much to think about. I encourage you to read this book. I hope you will and that perhaps you will share some of your thoughts on workplace friendships or any other aspect of friendships.