x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

'Wish you were here' ... but what would we talk about?

Being genuine takes effort, but it is surely the key to real and lasting friendships.

The definition of "genuine" is "free from pretence, affectation, or hypocrisy; sincere". But as admirable as that quality is, rarely do I hear of other people being described as "genuine", or of parents trying to instil "genuineness" in their children. Isn't it time that changed?

In an effort to conform to what has become socially acceptable, people in general are losing the ability to connect with one another. I attribute this to an unwillingness to offer genuine kindness.

In these days of affluence, people are willing to spend large amounts of money, say on a gift for a friend who has just delivered a baby, but not so willing to spend time at the hospital helping to care for a newborn.

While people are happy to attend the wedding of a relative we are not so enthusiastic to meet that same friend in a time of need, at least if the time suggested is inconvenient.

Indeed, people seem so concerned with their own lives, tied up in their own social schedule, that they rarely take time to make someone else happy unless there is a secondary benefit to them.

On a recent trip to the United States, the genuineness of the people I met, and the feeling of camaraderie everywhere, were a welcome change of pace. People are eager to show each other kindness, pay each other compliments and try to make each other smile. They do not think about how they will look to others in the checkout line at the supermarket, or how their compliments will be received by others.

Here in the UAE we are often constrained by religious and cultural norms, but perhaps a little bit more interaction (lady to lady and man to man) - in the same spirit as the camaraderie I witnessed in the US - might not be such a bad thing.

There is need for these types of relationships. People in the Emirates too often profile or categorise others. Sometimes, to not waste time or perhaps due to a little laziness, we might not make an effort with those people who do not fit into our same category.

For example when a man takes his luxury car to a car wash he may not feel comfortable to start a conversation with a stranger such as a waiting labourer.

But why not? This small interchange between two people might promote feelings of well-being.

Thirty years ago the UAE was home to many different nationalities and people of vastly different economic means, but they interacted in a very natural manner. My mother-in-law, now in her late 50s, is just as comfortable hosting dinners for ladies from the most elite national families as for the most humble workers in her neighbourhood.

In contrast, young girls today, even when among people from similar backgrounds, would find it unusual to strike up a conversation in a public place, like in a beauty salon. But in an effort not to disturb, or not to appear nosy or to maintain prestige, people are losing a little bit of what makes us connect.

Today with social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter and text messaging we are able to chat with our virtual "friends" rather than interacting with the person sitting next to us.

In our virtual world we post pictures of our latest holiday and send a quick SMS - "wish you were here". But do we really? Why are we constantly updating our status? We should be able to enjoy success at work, a day at Ferrari World with our children or a romantic dinner with our partners without sharing it with anyone else.

Tweets about aspiring to become more honest will not necessarily make a person more honest. By sending a quote about kindness you are informing your followers that you value kindness. But this does not make you a kind person. To improve character takes time, effort and circumstance.

To be genuine and spontaneous one must not make assumptions about other people. It takes courage and confidence to be yourself; becoming preoccupied with what people might think about our actions will have a negative effect on the decisions we make.

In our brief journey through life we come across so many people. We may miss the chance to meet a good friend, learn a valuable lesson or experience a feeling of true acceptance.

As the essayist Frank Crane once said: "What is a friend? I will tell you. It is a person with whom you dare to be yourself."


Reema Marzouq Falah Al Ahbabi is an Emirati homemaker and MBA graduate