How Social Action Can Help You Build Strong Friendships and Communities
Posted on: 30 July 2019
Eight years ago, the UN General Assembly proclaimed the International Day of Friendship on July 30th, aiming to promote the idea that friendship between people, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.
This celebration offers a great opportunity to reflect on the role of social action in building strong friendships and communities — especially with Freshers’ Week (universities’ welcome week for first-year students) coming up in a little over a month.
Over the next few weeks, some incoming freshers may experience what many of us have gone through the summer before first year. One moment, you’re excited about the prospect of university, meeting people, making life-long friends; and the next, the possibility of being the only friendless fresher on campus dawns upon you.
Is there something you can do during Freshers to guarantee that you’ll be building strong friendships and communities in no time?
As part of this year’s last training session with the Worthwhile graduate scheme, we discussed the role of community in our lives, as well as the values we hold for ourselves and the communities we are part of. A central point that came up was that strong communities are often a result of sharing a common purpose and/or values with other people. We spoke about the strong communities that form when we are involved in volunteering activities; working with the Samaritans; or advocating for a cause alongside other people.
Looking into the literature on this topic, some of the outcomes of social action for young people are identified as: a sense of belonging, of being listened to and making a difference; extended social horizons through forming relationships/networks with others from different backgrounds; and a caring attitude towards others.
I have found that many young people who are involved in social action (including myself) have a ‘regular’ friend group and a ‘volunteering’ friend group. (This is, of course, not everyone’s experience; but it is something I have noticed time after time.) What makes my ‘volunteering’ friend group stand out is that although I may not see some people for months at a time, once we reconnect, we effortlessly pick up right where we left off. Only last week, I met up with the former president of the first charity society I joined in my Freshers’ Week. As we were catching up, it was almost impossible to believe that we had not seen each other in a little over one year. Being able to reminisce about the times we shared and discuss our current or future social impact activities and interests means that we can never run out of things to bond over.
There is a particularly strong bond that social action fosters between people; a bond that often forms with little difficulty, yet can withstand the test of time, as it is rooted in strong shared values and perspectives on the world. When I started university, I often found it easier to make friends with people in my charity societies, as opposed to people in my lectures and seminars. Sometimes, having the same academic interests as someone does not mean that you are meant to be the best of friends. In my experience, having the same values and interests in social impact has been a much better indicator of whether my friendship with someone can be long-lasting.
Making friends and finding the community in which you thrive is one of the central and most exciting parts of university, especially in your first year. If you’re about to begin your first year this autumn, joining your local Hub will ensure endless opportunities to meet like-minded people and build a community that can stay with you for life. If you’re in your second or final year, it’s never too late to meet new people and get involved in an activity to not only help your community, but also change your university experience for the better.