My daughter started college this week. Last week was orientation. One day they gathered the 435 freshmen, arranged them in a circle, and drilled into them that this was their new “community.” A “diversity expert” asked them quite personal questions and they were to step inside the circle if the questions were true for them. Questions like, “Were you abused as a child,” “Are your parents divorced,” “Do you live/have you lived in poverty?” etc. I think the point was that although they are different, they share experiences and can bond with and rely on each other. He told them they weren’t required to answer, but if they didn’t, they should examine why they didn’t feel comfortable sharing with their new community. (My daughter said she wanted to say, “Um, because I just met you?”)
You can possibly force people to be friendly, but you cannot force people to be friends. You certainly cannot force intimacy. You cannot force trust.
I’m all for making new friends. But true, lasting friendships are formed over time, supporting one another through trials, rejoicing in victories, giving and receiving strength and love. It takes time. Sometimes trial and error. Patience and perseverance. I have a friend that says relationships can really only be forged after midnight, when defenses are down and the truth can be shared.
I have a group of three or four friends I’ve had since I moved to Maryland—over fourteen years. At first, when we had pre-schoolers and kindergarteners, our kids would just call all of us “Mommy.” We would gather in the morning and then have to race home to catch the afternoon kindergarten bus. This summer, the oldest two of our combined eleven kids graduated high school and left for college.
In between, we’ve helped each other through breast cancer, job losses, child birth and adoption, depression, children’s illnesses, and financial difficulties. And that doesn’t count what happened in our extended families. Wc’ve vacationed together, taught Sunday school together and gone on missions trips. We’ve shared our lives.
And all those questions the “expert” asked came up. And between us we’ve probably faced all the same situations. My dad drank and often left us in dire financial straits, until my parents divorced. But those questions came up naturally, in conversation. Some of those conversations were indeed after midnight. Some were on the playground over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Some were over coffee or cola diluted with tears.
But I guarantee you not one of them was in a circle called out by an expert.