One thing I’ve always loved about hiking in the great outdoors is how friendly all the people you meet on the trail tend to be. It doesn’t matter how old they are or how big their group is; when you pass another human being on the trail, they’re more than likely going to smile and greet you as you go on your way. And the best part is that, more often than not, you’ll feel like doing it too.
Now, I’m probably not someone who would ever be mistaken for an extrovert. There are many times that I do love (and need) the quiet solitude of a world untouched by the presence of other humans to recharge, refresh and recollect my thoughts.
However there have been times when I’ve been standing on a rugged North Coast shoreline watching the waves buffet the rocks in the golden light just before the sunset. Times when I’ve wandered endlessly through forests so full and green that I swear I’ve felt myself growing with them. Times when I’ve taken the last step to reach the summit of a mountain and seen the whole world laid out before my eyes, rich with wild potential. And in those times, I’ve just felt this irrepressible urge to try to find a way to share those experiences with my loved ones, the people who I know so richly deserve to experience that kind of beauty too.
It’s a feeling that comes from deep within our hearts, the camaraderie we feel toward our fellow humans and friends. Maybe it’s evolutionary, and we developed to be social animals because it proved to be a helpful adaptation. Maybe it’s just an impulse woven deep into the fabric of our souls. But no matter what its basis is, the capacity and drive for friendship has always been in us and it’s lasted throughout the ages. As much as our society may press us to highlight our differences and brandish them at each other like weapons in an endless battle for dominance, deep down somewhere in every heart there is a sympathetic pulse- ineradicable and steadfast. And contrary to what shows like “Survivor” might lead you to believe, I think it’s really nature that brings this sympathy to the fore.
Because what is it that divides us and makes us seek out differences that set us apart? It’s the competition for the kind of scarce resources society teaches us to prize. Money, promotions and the American dream of wealth and success. The way our civilization is set up, it’s just a fact of life that not everyone can win, and on the long road to the top, people have to divide themselves in order to conquer.
But in nature, what are we fighting for? Is there a scarcity of the beauty inherent in a roaring waterfall? Can any one person lay sole claim to the exhilaration of standing on a high mountain peak? What nature gives our spirits, it gives without limitation. And when we’re surrounded by its incredible abundance, we find it not only easy but truly natural to want to share its pure, genuine good with our fellow beings.
So when you’re out there on the trail and you find yourself greeting a stranger, let the warm disposition fill you to the brim. Leaving behind the barriers society creates between us is what spending time out in nature is all about. Our beautiful world is begging to be shared with a universe full of friends, some already known and others yet to be made. So let’s share it with them, and maybe when our hearts and minds have truly absorbed the spirit of friendship we can come back to our society and begin to break down the barriers there, too.
Look up, look out, look around – friendship is in our nature.
Nick Jensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Graphic by Sandra Bae.