Why Can't We Be Friends

I am a big fan of the CompLaude awards sponsored by WorkCompCentral. I try each year to make some meaningful nominations of people in this community of workers' compensation. I strive to identify people that may exemplify the spirit of those awards, as conceived by David DePaolo. One of the many I nominated (unnamed here as this particular shy nominee would chastise me), occurred to me because of quiet friendship. No, not just with me, but seemingly with everyone the nominee meets. It seems to me that every conversation of this nominee I have witnessed has included her/his statement "you know what I like about ________" (the listener's workers' compensation system). 

That thought came back to me reading the morning news recently. I found myself reading a story that 22% of Millenials have "No Friends." Imagine that, in the age of social media, constant communication, the tech savvy generation feels it struggles with friendship. The headline was repeated by FoxNews, the New York Post, and others when I searched for a link for this post. But my initial reference was to Vox

Vox concludes that what the Millennials are missing is "companionship." It noted these findings from a recent study:
22 percent of millennials . . . said they had zero friends.
Twenty-seven percent said they had “no close friends,”
30 percent said they have “no best friends,” and
25 percent said they have no acquaintances.
The Vox author questioned how the respondents defined "acquaintances," which is a reasonable question. In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) turns to Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) in response to his exclamation of "inconceivable" and says "you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." I likewise struggle with anyone that knows the meaning of "acquaintance" saying that they have zero. But I digress. 
The Vox article goes on to inform us that loneliness gets worse as we age. Not good news. Furthermore, "social isolation tends to increase" as we age. Worse news. There is also suggestion that there is an isolation cycle, with one study noting “loneliness was highest among young adults, declined over midlife, and increased modestly in old age.” Us old folks need to start fighting this. 
Coincidentally, I ran across another news article the same day. This was a local piece about a Georgia grade school student. Admittedly, you sometimes have to drill a bit to find good news, but it is out there. This young man's mother owns a business that personalizes items. She offered her son a t-shirt for the start of the new school year, and told him it could be imprinted with " anything – a basketball theme, football, whatever." 
The child, who has reportedly previously been a victim of bullying, chose something different. He asked his mother to create a shirt that reads simply "'I will be your friend," which he says is "for all the kids who need a friend to know that I am here for them." That got me thinking, mostly about you. 
And, as I reminisced, I got to thinking of Alice's Restaurant. See, Alice was a friend of Arlo Gutherie, a songwriter. He wrote a song about Alice's Restaurant, some garbage, the police, and more. What many do not realize is that the song is actually "to talk about the (military) draft" in the 1960s. But, once again, I digress. Perhaps I caught that from Arlo, see the song is eighteen minutes long and about as meandering as it could be. I listen to it every Thanksgiving, because you see it is also about Thanksgiving. There I go again. Anyway, the refrain of the song is "you can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant."
The lyrics of Alice's Restaurant that got me thinking, however, focus on Arlo's hope to raise awareness of the draft or Alice, or Thanksgiving, I am not sure. He suggested that if you find yourself in a difficult situation, you should look authority in the eye and say simply "you can get anything you want, at Alice's restaurant," and then simply walk away. Arlo conjectures that:
if just one person does it they may think he's really sick
And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, They may think (something of them)
And if three people do it, They may think it's an Organization.
And if Fifty people a day (did it) they may thinks it's a movement.
And that's what it is, the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement,
It is silly, humorous, and entertaining. Even if it is not Thanksgiving. But this has a great message, which returns me to my CompLaude nominee. What if people in this workers' compensation community took a minute to tell someone why we value her/him? Certainly, people are going to do and say things that we may not like. There are going to be plenty of opportunities for us to be stressed, upset, or harried. But every one of us shines at some moment, in some action, word, or gesture. Why don't we tell each other about those positives? Wouldn't we all have more friends if we focused thus on the positive?
Isn't that what makes people friends? Or at least acquaintances? Isn't it the ability to acknowledge and accept that other people are going to disappoint, anger, and perhaps worse? And, despite that, to still keep them close because of the counterbalancing good things about them? Are we all a little to eager to hold on to the offense and too quick to dismiss the benefit? As we head off to Orlando for the biggest conglomeration of the workers' compensation community in America next week, why don't we all focus on what is good, right, and positive in our fellow travelers. 
I will not be wearing a shirt that says "I will be your friend," though that article does note this mother has since sold a few more of those shirts. But, I will strive at WCI to be more focused on the positive. You know, like Train sang in Drops of Jupiter: "your best friend always sticking up for you even when I know you're wrong." I will strive to stick up for you whether I think you are right or not. I will stick up for you because of the benefit you bring to this community. More importantly, I am going to strive to remember to tell you about it more often. I hope you will too. If we do, perhaps we can beat this loneliness thing, maintain relationships, and better support our community around us. 
See, I know you have important qualities and contributions. I know that you may each be struggling with lack of companionship. You may feel an absence of friends, or even misconstrue the meaning of "acquaintance." But, know that you are an important part of a community that is collectively engaged in a great purpose and mission. You are valued, and should remember that even if you do not hear it often enough. By the same token, you should reminds others more often. 
By the way, Alice's Restaurant was playing as I wrote this, and it just ended. That is one long song. See you next week my acquaintance friend.
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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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