February 24, 2015

My first memory of primary (elementary) school was standing in front of the teacher’s desk waiting to be assigned a class group to join. We had just moved to Longniddry, a village about 15 miles east of Edinburgh and the school year had already started. I knew just one person in the class, Lisa, who had been at the same nursery school as I had for a while. I remember asking the teacher if I could be in the brown group because Lisa was in that one. Lisa was my first best friend and we stayed close until I was 12 and my family left Scotland to live in Canada. She was smart and thoughtful, more of a reader than I was and quieter too. She had a pretty smile and lovely long straight brown hair that behaved well. Lisa was also loyal, one of only two of my Scottish friends who stayed in touch after we moved to Canada, and we saw each other again at age 17 or so, when we returned to Scotland and I was about to start a new life in England. I remember being impressed that she was interested in studying science. After a few more we lost touch, and it was a couple more decades and the invention of Facebook, I think, to bring us back in touch after more than half of our lives.

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Lisa works at the Stirling University Library, in a job that she loves. She has a lovely daughter and a husband she adores and parents with whom she still enjoys quality time. Clearly my old friend appreciates the value of education and relationships, so today I sent her a copy of a book I wrote a few years ago about a philosopher whose teachings centered on these two core pillars of our lives – Confucius. Confucius lived 2,500 years ago in China, but I believe his teachings apply just as strongly today as they did then, and in the West just as much as the East. Although we really know very little about him, we understand from sayings attributed to him that he considered nothing more important in life than our relationships with others. He taught that we should all educate our brains and cultivating our characters in order to better manage our relationships, especially four key relationships: ruler and subject, parent and child, older and younger brother, husband and wife. The year or so I spent reading and writing about Confucius provided me with an intense and enriching reminder of the centrality of these relationships to our wellbeing. Although the relationship between friends was not one of the four primary relationships of his teachings, the sage did famously speak of the pleasure of greeting friends visiting from afar, and listed the joys in life that do us good as: “joy in dissecting ritual and music, joy in speaking of the good in men, and joy in a number of worthy friends.” Confucius may have been far from the mind of Mark Zuckerberg when he developed Facebook (although I just learned that his wife is Chinese, so who knows?), but being able to reach out across the world and reconnect with friends like Lisa, who I have known since the beginning of my life, is one of life’s joys indeed.

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