1) Sherri Rosen: Why did you write this book?
Dr. Winfried Sedhoff: Ultimately, I felt I needed to. But it certainly wasn’t part of some long-term plan. Quite the opposite. If you had told me twenty or thirty years ago I would write a book about friendship I’d have probably have laughed it off.
Why? Friendship was just never on my radar. From a very young age I was taught work and study should always come first. Friendships weren’t encouraged, they could get in the way of other more ‘important’ things. I was often made to work rather than spend time with friends.
Why the change? What made me see friendship so differently, as critical personally, socially, and globally? A life-threatening personal crisis. I was in my early twenties, having graduated as a doctor and accepted into a specialist training program, when I noticed I was severely depressed. To be honest, I had been for many years but I had been too busy studying or working to notice. Then I started getting some free time and began to notice how poorly I really felt. I actually thought about ending it all.
I didn’t, of course. Instead I decided I would try and fix myself by looking inside me to try to find a sense of all knowing – a sense of honest, personal, truth; a genuine sense of self. It was the only solution I believed would ultimately work.
So, I resigned from my training position, isolated myself for 12 months in a one-bedroom rental, and faced all my worst emotional pains and fears to see beyond them. I eventually found what I was searching for. It wasn’t at all what I expected. Later I would apply some of what I learnt with patients, as a GP. Helping them inspired me to write a few books, to share the practical insights further.
Writing my last book was a real wakeup call. Suddenly I began to see how much devastation occurs when we neglect friendship – when it isn’t our priority. I noticed it at work, how a decline or neglect of friendship was playing a major role in depressed and lonely patients, families being pulled apart, unhappy relationships, and bullying in school, the work place, and online. I could see it reflected in so many people feeling generally miserable and unsatisfied with life.
But I could also see its effects more broadly. I could see a decline in friendship was dividing our communities and filling them with prejudice and hate. I began to see how a decline in friendship creates massive inequality, exploitation, slavery, ongoing wars, and environmental disasters – it threatens our world.
But friendship also showed me some hope. It helped me to see how we might be able to use it to actually stop all this unnecessary mess in our lives and globally. Even as individuals – just by being you and me.
Boy was I wrong about friendship. I felt this worth sharing. Now we have this book.
2) Sherri Rosen: You have a vast knowledge of the situations of disconnect in the USA, Australia and many other countries throughout the world, how did this come about?
Dr. Winfried Sedhoff: I recognised the decline of friendship, I was curious to see how much of our violent and troubled history it could explain and how far it had spread. To my surprise, there was evidence of friendship’s decline in every civilisation I looked back to, even among the oldest recognised primary civilisations – those who started independent of each other.
What I realised was I was tracing the rise and influence of our insatiable desires for wealth, power, and status – the fundamentals of greed. I found these desires almost universally oppose and depress friendship desires – see us disconnect.
The ultimate example of their power I could see expressed in the form of empire – there have been many empires over the last five-thousand-plus years. Then I stumbled upon the example of the British East India Company and I was completely shocked by how brutal, uncaring, and malicious they were, all in the pursuit of wealth, power, and status – to feel important. Tens of millions of people died because of their greed. Almost a whole country was taken over by them – by a company, not a country. What land and assets the East India Company captured it eventually gave the British government and the Great British Empire was born – the largest empire the world had ever known. I couldn’t believe it! No one had ever taught me any of this.
Then I noticed how the greedy – the very wealthy and powerful – used companies and manipulated governments to accumulate ever-more wealth and power at everyone else’s expense. The rise of hybrid empires we see today; the corruption of governments at the highest levels.
I noticed that if a country is dominated by desires of greed their friendship levels decline – their societies inevitably fracture, and their people suffer unnecessarily. I didn’t have to look far to find examples of this level of greed and empire building around the world. It is present to some degree in Australia. It is especially present in the USA, China, Brazil, and Russia – to name a few.
The more I looked the more I could see how friendship’s decline had spread globally like a horrible disease. I am still fascinated and appalled by just how much damage this has created – and continues to create – in virtually every corner of the world.
3) Sherri Rosen: Do you feel after many of these countries especially the USA with electing a president who chooses to be a dictator that the USA has learned its harsh lesson and will elect a president who is smart, decent and honest?
Dr. Winfried Sedhoff: I wish I could say yes. Seeing friendship in terms of satisfying just Ten Desires of friendship – such as to feel valued, noticed, cared for, appreciated and respected – has taught me democracy is weak. But it also showed me democracy is the best form of government – we know of – that can help meet the friendship desires.
Unfortunately, friendship is vulnerable to the impacts of threats or fear. How does this happen? We all want to feel valued, respected, and heard. These are critical friendship desires we seek to have met. These desires played a critical part of us living in tribes. A tribe lives by consensus, everyone having an equal and respected say – they played an active role in the decisions that affected them.
But when we are attacked by another tribe or large beast there isn’t time for consensus. If we stopped to have a group chat when we are attacked we’d be dead before the first person had a say. When we need to make quick decisions, we do better under the leadership of one experienced person. That means when we feel under threat or afraid we are quite willing to give up our need to be equally heard and valued so we can act as if of one mind – as one well-co-ordinated unit. We let ourselves be less heard and important so the most skilled and experienced among us can lead us. We give up having some of our friendship desires met so we survive. It works well in the short-term. Once the threat is gone we can go back to being close friends and being treated as equals again – of equal voice, value, and respect.
Long-term, if the fear or threat remains, it means we will continue to look to leaders who can help protect and dominate us – such as authoritarian figures. Make us afraid, of some enemy, or losing our house, our income, our standard of living and we can look to the authoritarian figure to save us. Remember, that is how Hitler came to power – Germany was doing it tough after the treaty of Versailles. Unemployment was high and many people were afraid and starving. But give in to authority and we lose our ability to be heard, valued, and treated with equal respect.
Democracy gives an ability to be heard and treated with equal respect. It can easily fall or splinter when we are driven to be afraid or feel we are being threatened. Unfortunately, in the US and elsewhere both politicians and the media seem to be focusing on raising fear and making it appear we are constantly under threat.
It doesn’t help when the wealthy exploit us to better themselves. Or that many of us aren’t guaranteed social supports to ensure we can put food on our table and pay the bills. To not be able to find and keep a stable, well-paying, job. These also make us feel afraid or under threat.
Has the US learned its lesson the harsh lesson of voting in a dictator? I’m not sure it has. Fear and greed are still powerful forces in the US, and in many other parts of the world.
4) Sherri Rosen :The main ingredient of greed that’s taken over the USA, how do you feel people can change, reconnect with one another, and have corporations operate with more heart? Is it possible?
Dr. Winfried Sedhoff: Personal and corporate greed certainly is a dominating force in the USA at present; it is deeply ingrained. But this is where friendship gives us enormous hope. Friendship is greed’s natural antidote.
Why? Because friendship was made to satisfy what greed never can and was never made to. Ultimately it comes down to us all wanting to feel secure and safe – that we, and our families, can feel assured we won’t be harmed and can live happy, healthy, lives.
For millions of years as tribal people friendship gave us safety and security – safety in numbers against attack and security in food since we can hunt and gather better as a group. Then came farming. Now, instead of relying on others to feel safe and secure we started to rely on having more than we needed – to see us through the hard times such as long droughts. We know this excess as wealth. The more uncertain the seasons the stronger our desire for wealth and desires for power and status. Power and status help ensure we remain wealthy. The stronger our greed.
But greed is a bottomless pit – by its very nature it is insatiable. We can never have so much someone else – or some group – can’t take it. And never have enough to outlast all disasters.
Friendship, however, is not insatiable – it can actually be satisfied. It can let us truly feel secure and safe – among people close to us we can trust who have each other’s backs.
Friendship even works in transforming corporations and businesses. There are already companies that apply the Ten Desires of Friendship – making friendship a priority – often without realising it. They have great heart and a caring and responsible nature.
The companies that do this best are co-operatives.
Co-operatives – co-ops – are user owned and run companies where to be a customer or worker for the business is to have an equal single vote. Here we are listened to, respected, appreciated, and supported – after all supporting our colleagues is to support our business and its success. These are businesses that truly value their customers and staff and, as part of the co-operative charter, focus on helping their local communities and being environmentally responsible in the process. They aren’t there to make profit just for a few at any price. There are many very successful co-operatives around the world, in agriculture, even in banking.
Actually, friendship – applying the Ten Desires – can transform any business. It can reduce bullying, improve job satisfaction, job stability, and even weed out companies that are being irresponsible dictatorial brutes. If we, for instance, focused on only doing business with friendship-friendly businesses – those who prioritise meeting the Ten Desires among staff, customers, and their community the brutally greedy companies will go out of business.
And to those sceptics who think a friendship-friendly business can’t compete on the world stage with global-level quality products look no further than Germany. Germany has community-focused and family run companies called Mittelstand companies. They are small to medium sized companies who value long-term satisfied customers and staff and compete successfully all over the world.
So, not only can applying the Ten Desires and prioritising friendship help us build and maintain connections in our own lives – one on one – it can help us transform our businesses and make them socially attuned, responsible, and globally successful.
Improving the hearts of corporations, I believe, is very achievable. The greed that has gripped the US and its corporations can be overcome in very simple ways.
5) Sherri Rosen: You are a doctor, not a politician, why do you feel you have some of the answers to change our political situation?
Dr. Winfried Sedhoff: To me politics is about people, how we all get along and get our basic human desires met in a balanced and sustainable way. This is similar to how I see myself as a GP counsellor. Most of my job is helping meet other people’s personal basic human desires so they can live more balanced and fulfilling lives.
Being a doctor who specialises in counselling has given me the huge privilege of being able to look into people’s hearts and lives. It has helped me to appreciate many people’s struggles, heartbreaks, and loss. It has given me a deep appreciation of some of the difficulties of creating a fulfilling life in such changing times. It has also helped remind me that our governments and representatives are simply a reflection of us. In other words, our priorities, problems, issues, and ways of coping are reflected in our governments and politicians.
For example, if we put greed ahead of friendship in our lives, see wealth and power as our only way to have a better life – want to be billionaires like the people on TV – then our representatives will put greed ahead of friendship too and so will our governments. Next thing we have governments run by greedy and corrupt politicians feathering their own nests ahead of helping the people, putting corporate profits ahead of improving wages and protecting the environment – ensuring the rich get richer at our expense and the health of the planet. It is as we would expect – the governments and politicians a reflection of us.
It also means the solutions we find to our own problems are highly relevant to helping us fix our political situations. For instance, if we learn how to listen properly, be respectful, show appreciation, and care for each other so we don’t feel so lonely and depresses we are less likely to then feel threatened and need to join some hostile group to try to feel we fit in – to vent anger and hatred. We will be more amenable to compromise – creating discussion and consensus – just as we would with a respected and equal friend or group of friends.
Isn’t this how governments are supposed to work, founded on discussion, compromise, and developing consensus rather than treating those with different view as our sworn enemy?
Friendship has helped show me that all of us matter. The choices we make now, the decision to put greed ahead of friendship for instance, affects our vote and what policies impact on our family’s lives. They affect how we treat the poor and sick. They define how we treat our environment.
I don’t think we need to be a politician to offer useful insights and potential solutions to our political state of affairs. I think actually not being a politician is a great advantage. It means we aren’t beholding to the people or the source of the money; we can come up with our own ideas and not worry what faction or special interest group might support us so we get elected.
Wouldn’t it be great if our politician behaved like valued, respected, friends? Imagine how much better our governments would be.
6) Sherri Rosen: Why is this disconnect happening all over the world and the USA?
Dr. Winfried Sedhoff: Why are we fracturing, letting hatred and difference divide us, seeing us compete rather than coming together? There can be many reasons, but a primary reason would have to be we just don’t value friendship as we once did.
Think about it. If we made friendship more important than working for a better house in a wealthier suburb, more of a priority than being seen in our fancy new car or designer clothes, how much closer and connected would we be? We could once again have suburbs and neighbourhoods where we know each other’s families and get on, where we feel it ok letting our children play together and go from house to house. We could gather in groups of people we know respect us and feel secure and safe, able to share our music, dance, and stories with one another. We could make it easier for us to find a life-long partner we can actually get on well with – make it easier for us to find the love of our life; they are easier to find among like-minded friends. We would get off our screens and actually talk and share our troubles, joys, and concerns – not simply feel angry and alone and needing to vent online among others suffering like us. Or bring down those who simply think or look different to us.
Friendship unites. Greed, strong desires for wealth and power, divide. We have let our desires for wealth, power, and status completely overpower our desires for friendship. The disconnect we see around us is simply a tragic reflection of this. It doesn’t have to be this way.
7) Sherri Rosen: Women in the USA are running in record numbers for Congress and the Presidency but why do you feel the white man feels so frightened of a woman running and winning?
Dr. Winfried Sedhoff: I’m not sure all white men are afraid of women running and winning. But I get your point, quite a few certainly seem to be.
The question reminds me of an article I read from University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz who studied the 2016 election and found many white men voted for Trump because they felt threatened – they were afraid. So why might a significant number of white men feel frightened of a woman running for congress or the Presidency and winning?
One likely reason, following on from Diana’s study, is the fear of losing privilege and prestige. Let’s face it, more white men have privilege and power in the US than women. Less than 25% of women hold a seat in the congress. Of the Fortune 500 CEOs the number of women is less than 7%.
But let’s not forget, this is privilege in a system that is a competitive hierarchy – a brutal competition to get to the top. To fall down, even a little, is to be vulnerable – to feel less safe. We could end up ‘losing it all’ with no guarantee of a social support blanket to catch us. Our wealthy and privileged colleagues are almost certainly not going to bail us out; we are competitors after all. To lose any privilege in such a brutal system can be a terrifying place.
Imagine struggling hard to maintain privilege and believing you finally feel safer and more secure in life and have that threatened to be taken from under your feet. How would that feel? Besides, if men can’t be looked up to as the providers and protectors of our family and country what use are they? Especially if that has been how they have defined themselves for decades, or centuries. For a woman to win the presidency or seat in congress can be expected to be an existential threat to many men. Just like Diana Mutz found in her research into the 2016 election.
In a society prioritising friendship, however, women winning such seats wouldn’t be such a problem. We would have each other’s backs – better social supports – and there would be less to lose. Having women run for and win seats in congress or the presidency wouldn’t be as big a deal.
8) Sherri Rosen: Why aren’t more white men vocal in support of women?
Dr. Winfried Sedhoff: This is a powerful question. It truly gets to the heart of why we live in a patriarchy and how greed has played, and continues to play, a vital part.
Let’s start by recognising women always – ultimately – do badly in civilisations. Even in the first recognised civilisation in Samaria women were not give the equal rights of men.
Why was that? My way to make sense of this is to look at the question in terms of basic human desires – the drives we can often recognise in our hearts. Friendship plays a vital role.
Let’s assume for a moment that nature gave women and men slightly different desire strengths or priorities in keeping with our physical differences. It gave women strong desires to care and nurture so our young would be breast fed and cared for in their most vulnerable state. It gave men desires to provide food for and protect his family – to provide and protect. This isn’t to say these desires don’t exist in each sex, they do, but our primary role in a peaceful society would likely reflect our gender differences.
Now suppose we create a society based on competition, of fighting to get to the top. Which of these two desire groups, those of men or of women, will likely get most satisfaction or benefit from this?
Well, caring isn’t going to be as much of a priority. To be carer and nurturer isn’t going to be a very valuable vocation. But being a provider and protector – a fighter – fits right in. Fighting to get to the top can help men provide and protect for their family. It can help him feel more of a ‘man’. It enhances drives that already naturally play a major part of his life.
The problems for women in such a society is if they want to feel valued and respected they have to be providers and protectors too – compete with men on their level, with their brutal rules – or be dismissed or ignored. Live in a society dominated by greed and to be a woman focusing on their natural inclination towards being a carer and nurturer and you will be doing it especially tough.
It is worth remembering, by definition, all civilisations are dominated by greed; it is how they became civilisations in the first place. Greed, as we already noted, is especially powerful in the US.
Is it really so surprising, then, that more men aren’t supporting women, especially in the USA? It goes against man’s nature in such a society. It also threatens their position and self-image as provider. Unfortunately, unless we all – including men – choose to put friendship first and truly value the role of caring and nurturing and how vital it is – raise it up as many tribes once did – we can’t really expect much more vocal support of men for women.
The hope is, when friendship comes first, so does caring, and with it the respect and value for naturally caring women everywhere to truly empower them.
9) Sherri Rosen: What can we in the USA learn from Indigenous Cultures?
Dr. Winfried Sedhoff: It is easy to dismiss indigenous cultures, isn’t it? After all, they are so primitive; their technology is almost non-existent, and their beliefs are so simple.
What we fail to recognise is their profound skill at being able to deeply satisfy the basics of what it is be a human being – to live truly satisfying, meaningful, lives. Indigenous cultures can especially help teach us about how to satisfy the desires of friendship. Friendship was at the core of their very being.
In modern society we like to think of ancient tribes as barbaric and always at war. It offers us solace as we wipe them out or oppress them, cast them aside. But their apparent war-like nature and so-called barbarism aren’t as we have been led to believe.
Take the indigenous Australians, and North American Iroquois, for instance. The aboriginal peoples of Australia were not always groups fighting each other. They co-existed, mostly peacefully, for over sixty thousand years. How do we know this? We can see evidence in their rock art. Since they pretty much arrived the new indigenous peoples of Australia began painted scenes on rocks of what was important to them. Mostly it was food, animals, people, and representations of deep spiritual stories. There is only one region of Australia that has them pictured with spears and fighting. This can be dated to the end of the last ice age when sea levels rose and large numbers were displaced from the area north of a Australia that is now under water. A new group, scarce resources, there were bound to be disputes. If they war was an important part of their lives why don’t we see more pictures of it?
Another reason we know they didn’t always fight is that there are over 250 separate language areas – like territories, or regions under custodianship – where each group maintained a different language. If they were always fighting we would expect one group to ultimately dominate and their language to be the prime language like Mandarin spread across China or English across much of the British conquered world. It seems the indigenous Australians, for the most part, found a way to maintain peaceful relations with each other.
So too the Iroquois of North America. They created perhaps the best democracy we may ever see. Why might it be the best? Because it truly recognised the value of women and their role in society. Sometime around the mid 1400s it is estimated five tribes came together under the ‘great peacemaker’ to form the what the French called the Iroquois Nation. They created a council of 50 members with representatives from the various tribes. Only men sat at the table. But only women voted.
This is ground-breaking and ingenious. Why? They found a way to help women feel true to their human desires and men too, whilst also maintaining lasting peace between them. Women held the ultimate power but were still encouraged and supported in their role as care givers. They found what we are yet to find, a stable form of governance that meets our basic human needs remarkably well.
Indigenous peoples also found ways to maintain a respect and emotional connection with the land, something many of us are yet to experience or appreciate. It is interesting that we so revere our technological brilliance. And yet, it only exists because of war – it is all a product of our fighting, often for more wealth and power. Cultures that lived peacefully had no need of such technology, they had something far more satisfying to strive for; deeper connections with each other and themselves.
What can we learn from indigenous cultures? Maybe we can begin by learning to create stable governments based on friendship that create the right environment to nurture happy, deeply satisfied, balanced human beings. Perhaps we may be able to relearn from them the most important lesson of all: how to be human.
10) Sherri Rosen: Was there a personal experience you had to realize the disconnect people have with each other all over the world?
Dr. Winfried Sedhoff: Yes, I had to experience the disconnect and its resulting emotional pain in an extreme way and then find a way to overcome it.
If I look back on my life in terms of what I now know about friendship it can appear that friendship had a special lesson and insight it wanted me to see. Because, to be honest, I really didn’t care for it. Friendship had already determined this experience long before I was born.
I was born in Germany after two world wars. None of them would have happened if everyone valued friendship more – there wouldn’t have been any empires for a start. If friendship was a priority in Germany I know my father wouldn’t have left for Australia with the family when I was not yet 2 years old. Then I wouldn’t have been teased in primary school, called a Nazi, and found it so hard to make friends – I might have been invited to birthday parties. If I was taught how to make friends and prioritise them I doubt I would have felt so lonely and been ostracised in high school. I almost certainly wouldn’t have been so depressed in my mid-twenties when I wanted to end my life.
Does anyone ever want to face their worst fears and emotional pains? Not if they can avoid it. I felt I had to; it was that or die trying. Then I found a way out. By searching within and facing the worst and most tormenting parts of myself I discovered what I had been looking for. It wasn’t supernatural, just peaceful, content, and honest.
It was only by helping others overcome their depression over several years, using the skills and insights I gained during this harrowing internal journey, that I finally realised how important friendship is and could then see the disconnect all around me and around the world, and the vast damage it has done and is doing. Realising this disconnect wasn’t something I consciously chose to do. It wasn’t easy for me to see, but it was necessary.
Now I just hope what friendship has taught me can prevent even more unnecessary damage and suffering. Less loneliness, struggle, and conflict would be nice, don’t you think?
Photo provided by Dr. Winfried Sedhoff.