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Building Friendship Bridges

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (August 27, 2015)

During one of my recent travels, I was in a city where they were building a bridge across a wide river. I watched as brave men climbed onto tall towers that helped erect the gigantic structure that had been intricately designed by architects and engineers. It amazed me how people can build structures that span across water when there was nothing in place before. By building that bridge, people can travel more quickly to different places and goods can be delivered more efficiently. It’s hard to imagine getting to the airport by car without the Tsing Ma bridge or getting to Manhattan Island in New York City without their many bridges!

And in teaching children about relationships, we take something concrete, like a bridge, to teach children something more abstract about friendship. We teach children that friendship is like a bridge – in the same way that physical bridges connect two places, friendship is a ‘bridge’ that connects two people. And similarly, it takes time, effort and planning to build a friendship, as it does a physical bridge.

The beam of the bridge represents the communication and interactions between two people. The ‘beam of communication’ may include playing games together, watching movies, talking, sharing thoughts and feelings, going on holiday, having play dates, listening to others, and much, much more. However, the bridge wouldn’t stand unless it had pillars to hold it up. This is where ‘pillars of friendship’ come in. Pillars of friendship are the character values that both parties must have to make the bridge strong. These include but are not limited to: honesty, loyalty, compassion, helpfulness, sensitivity, respect, understanding, patience and forgiveness.

If a friendship bridge only had a ‘beam of communication’ without ‘pillars’, then it wouldn’t be a strong friendship. There may be a lot of interactions but the communication would be shallow and lack respect, sensitivity and honesty, as examples. But also, vice versa, it wouldn’t be a bridge if there were pillars of compassion, respect and understanding without any interaction between the two people! A healthy friendship bridge needs both beam and pillars, in the same way that friendship needs both communication and character.

I remember in one of the classes I was teaching, we had students build bridges out of recycled materials and the only guideline was that it had to have a beam and 4 pillars. They were asked to label the different parts of the bridge and to make associations with friendship components. And after they built the bridge, we would place weights on the bridge to test how strong the bridge is. Students watched on the sidelines wrought with excitement and fear as they watched their bridge survive, or collapse, under the pressure of the weights. And with that activity, we explained to students that in any relationship, it will face the ‘weight’ of difficulties. Maybe those difficulties include one person moving to a different country, or one friend finding new friends, have misunderstandings, or arguments. All these things will put pressure on the bridge and will be the true test of how strong the bridge is.

On occasions, the bridge these students had built would break. And we would use that as a discussion for what makes a friendship ‘break’. Perhaps there is a large argument that tarnishes the friendship or that the friend becomes a bully. In those situations, we talk about whether the bridge should be rebuilt and whether the other person is also willing to rebuild the friendship bridge together. It doesn’t just work one way and both parties need to put the time and effort into rebuilding a strong friendship bridge with a beam of communication and pillars of character.

So the next time you see or go over a bridge, use it as an object lesson to share with your children about the importance of building strong friendship bridges!


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