Bonds of Friendship : Life Lessons from Chemistry
I have always enjoyed the sciences, especially the study of chemistry. Chemistry helps one to understand the interactions of matter down to the smallest particle. When I enrolled in my first class, I had much trouble grasping some of the basic concepts as a visual minded individual, especially the whole discussion of “mole”. For all of you who do not know this term, it deals with the mass of elements, given 1 x 10 ^23 units. It is like when you wish to compare apples and oranges, except in dealing with atoms you need to convert to another scale than pounds or kilogram. If you could go to the “ATOMIC STORE” and wish to buy a bag of zinc, it would not come in the same size bag as helium. So, given a standard weight of reference, one is looking for how many apples weigh as much as ten oranges. It is an over simplification but allow me to get to my topic.
Ok, so as I was saying, I am very visual in my thinking. Most of the students in my class would schedule to see the professor after class with their questions written on a sheet of paper. But for me to grasp concepts I often took a marble model of the molecule in question and ask the teacher to reassemble the solutions to a problem for me. It helped me to ‘really understand’ the workings of a reaction.
Given this tendency to visualize chemistry problems has been an asset to me in applying metaphors to other disciples. If there is one thing I have seen over my years of study, it is that the “truth in a discipline”, seems congruent to the “truth held” in other disciplines. Visual models help me to grasp truths more effectively, especially in social sciences. Now to the point of this blog, I wish to introduce a very interesting chemistry concept that can be very helpful to those who ever suffered losses in their life.
On stage the curtain is pulled back. Let us give a warm welcome to a “lipid molecule (people often just call him ‘fat’).”
You will notice many repeating patterns in a lipid molecule. It has what is called a “carbon backbone” like many organic molecules in our world. But what I wish to point out is that you will notice a large set of Hydrogen molecules (white) hugging the carbons (black) in the chain.
These chains stay together by charges, known as bonds. The positive charges of hydrogen share fields with available negatively charged carbons. When two or more different chains sit close together, side by side, they will try to repel each other. Maybe now, you can probably then understand why oils are slippery. The positive bonded charges of the hydrogen atom of one lipid molecule tries to move away from the hydrogen atom of another lipid molecule close to it. You probably heard somewhere that “opposites attract and same repel”.
So, maybe it then makes sense. Lipids (or fats) in compact spaces tend to push each other away…meaning less friction..meaning it can be quite slippery. Knowing this, you can probably think of other substances that you found slippery. So do you think slippery substances have similar properties? Yes, in fact they do; whether it is a drop of oil for a hinge or a banana peel that makes an actor slip for a good laugh.
There is great lesson we can grasp through their “structural behavior” when a small piece is removed (e.g. a hydrogen atom is removed). The loss of hydrogen from paired carbon makes that empty carbon more negatively charged. This often results in two carbons sharing a neighboring hydrogen, like two boys dating the same girl.
Now instead of a single bond, the affected carbons create a double bond. Structurally, this makes the molecule more reactive to the environment. After all, the girl that is dating two boys at the same time, can more easily leave them both. In order for the whole molecule to become more stable, their will usually rotate slightly down the whole chain of carbons, permitting as much equal sharing to balance out the ionic shift.
Now in contrast, enter Salt. He is often called sodium chloride, like the table salt your use to season your food.
Notice, there are just two parts, a sodium atom and a chloride atom. What is very different here is there are not any other competitions happening for the bond they uniquely have. Usually a medium has to be available for them to let go of each other. This is what happens as it dissolves in water. The water (H2O) ,as a medium becomes aligned in ways that react with chloride and sodium, coming between them to disassociate.
Now outside of a medium change, it would be very difficult to break the bond of salt. However, if sodium and chloride get separated without a stable medium, something very significant takes place. Both sodium and chloride become very unstable and search desperately to be united with anything, if not each other. These are radicals.
Now an unpaired Chloride would seek other Chloride atoms for stability. This ultimately results in Chloride gas; a poisonous and toxic gas.
The Sodium, on the other hand becomes flammable and has the capacity to burn a hole through carpet!
Ok, what profound truth can we extract from this? We are all just like molecules, with bonds like relationships. Some people have only a few relationships like salt; those with whom they share memories, experiences and events. Living life without significant companions to reciprocate, may leave us more vulnerable to stress and ‘radical’ perspective after loss. It is much more likely to become reactive and may contribute to an emotional imbalance when an only friend or partner is unexpectedly lost.
A unique Reality that two isolated partners share exclusively can be dramatically altered after a loss of a partner and in such circumstances a survived partner may not be able to function in their daily activities.
In fact, the survived ones identity may be essentially lost, until a limited strategy (despite its logical merit) can be employed in order to go on.
Some people have a large number of people they share experiences . Such people tend to always have bonds with others and share on deeper levels, or on many levels with others. They are often a part of either a large family, a club, a church or community, or may have been raised with a community mindset. Such people are best equipped to share the loss they experience with others with whom they are intimately familiar. They can access the sympathy from others, and later when a similar loss is experienced by a close friend, the bond can be further reinforced by empathy instead of sympathy.
As joys and sorrows come their way, it is the company of established, mutually regarded companions that permit strength to face life’s unexpected challenges optimally.
Now you may see a parallel here between the loss of ionic bonds in chemistry to loss which may occurs socially; as a lost relationship. How one deals with a lost family member or partner in life have much to do with how well that loss can be shared with others. Culturing quality relationships, sharing favorable experiences with others, making good memories with others of similar core values, all strengthen bonds of your relationships. When anyone shares a bond with another then life’s challenges take on a different impact.
One writer once put it , ” friendship halves our sorrow and doubles our joy”. It brings more meaningfulness and stability to endure the unexpected hardships in our lives. Take the time to invest in your friendships. It is an investment you can not effectively live without.