Today, on the occasion of the United Nations International Day of Friendship, we welcome a very personal guest blog from a dear friend and Patron of Compassion in World Farming, Peter Egan. Peter has long been a tireless campaigner and animal activist, as well as a hugely successful actor of stage, screen and television who includes such well known programmes as Downton Abbey in his extensive acting portfolio.
Celebrating International Friendship Day is a good time to reflect on what friendship actually is and what it means to me.
In order to understand what I mean..I have to relate to friendship in precisely the same way I relate to love and raise it to the highest level of human contact..a contact which celebrates the best in ourselves..and not the worst.
My understanding of friendship is that it grows exponentially, like love, when those who are involved in the act of friendship have a mutual respect and understanding of the needs of the others engaged in this vital part of all of our lives.
To me friendship is love and love is friendship..love can never develop to its full capacity without friendship.
In my experience we do not remain friends with those who are indifferent to the emotional or intellectual development of each other.
All children crave friendship. It is an essential ingredient in our development and in the right environment it inspires us to be better than we are. The beginnings are of course very simple..I like Jack and Jill and the Flower pot men..what about you? If we don’t connect on the simplest level to begin with, the friendship fails.
As we grow older our demands on friendship become more serious and I think it is in our early maturity that our understanding of friendship starts to truly develop.
I met my first real friend when I was 16..an Irish writer called Shane Connaughton. We shared an obsession about acting and through him I developed a love of literature. Our friendship has lasted for nearly sixty years, during which time we met our life partners and our friendship was enriched by our individual life experiences.
During my lifetime I have made many friends who have remained in place..we have celebrated our successes and commiserate with our failures..success and failure are fair weather friends..true friends are constant.
True friendship, like love, will only survive in an environment of mutual respect, generosity and kindness.
Another component that contributes, in an essential way, to the development of our ability to create friendship, is our early relationship with our companion animals. I think, unless we suffer a genetic abnormality, we are all born with a natural sense of compassion. Sadly our upbringing usually works to reduce our ability to develop our compassion, whether it be by the contradiction introduced in to our lives at an early age, when we have a rabbit as our companion animal..sadly, we keep it in a cage..and when we ask our mummy what’s for dinner often the answer will be “rabbit darling” introducing a cognitive dissonance.
Children all over the world witness appalling cruelty to animals. When it is the accepted norm these children’s natural compassion is diminished and they accept the status quo and go on to inflict cruelty to animals and humans alike.
So for me..compassion and kindness becomes an essential ingredient in the development of true and caring friendships.
Once we elevate friendship to its true and highest form it demands of us that we relate to and give this friendship to all species with whom we share our wonderful planet and indeed with the planet itself.
If international friendship is to be celebrated then we must extend the hand of friendship and compassion to all and most profoundly be a friend to our planet. If we extend respect and compassion to our planet by treating it with respect, it will reward us in kind.
At this moment, when I have just lost the love of my life, my greatest friend, my wife Myra, it has never been clearer to me just how temporary our time on this earth really is.
We must leave it better than we found it. We must respect each other and all other species. We have no dominion over them or our planet..we must celebrate friendship together otherwise we are colluding with our own destruction.
In conclusion, for me the greatest celebration of friendship is to be an ethical vegan. A plant based lifestyle revives the health of our planet..a great act of friendship. It commits me to compassion..kindness and empathy and takes cruelty out of my life..a friendship which I extend to human animals and all species on our wonderful planet.
Happy international friendship day to all.