In two weeks, on July 30th, we will be celebrating what the United Nations has designated as the International Day of Friendship – a day to recognize the importance of friendship as a significant aspect of our shared humanity and as a force that can contribute to global cooperation, solidarity, and peace.

The UN states: “Through friendship — by accumulating bonds of camaraderie and developing strong ties of trust — we can contribute to the fundamental shifts that are urgently needed to achieve lasting stability, weave a safety net that will protect us all, and generate passion for a better world where all are united for the greater good.” 

I find it to be one of the most important, yet hardly recognized International Days. The UN General Assembly proclaimed the International Day of Friendship in 2011 to highlight the importance of “inclusion”, “respect for diversity”, and “international understanding” for a better and more peaceful world.

But what does friendship mean in the modern-day world? The notion of friendship–or any type of human interaction–has evidently changed with the advent of the internet and social media. The nature of our social interactions are no longer just limited to seeing friends in real life but also “friending” people on Facebook. The world has become increasingly interconnected and the potential for friendship to flourish in many forms has never been greater. However, every day we witness the blurring of what is right and wrong, the reduction of human values, and the general diminishing of trust among different communities. This makes me wonder, have we lost the true meaning of friendship?

This month, our 26th Youth Assembly gathered delegates virtually from 40 nations for its pre-conference sessions. In a presentation by one of our esteemed speakers, Satya Tripathi, the Assistant Secretary-General at the UNEP, stated that the world is facing two kinds of pandemic. The first, of course, is a global health pandemic that has impacted the lives of all of us, COVID-19. The second, however, is what he referred to as the “pandemic of fake news”.

Let’s consider this for a moment: a pandemic is an epidemic that occurs worldwide as a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease. When we put fake news into this category, it becomes exponentially disconcerting. In an actual pandemic, where information is vital to public health responses, the viral spreading of false stories and deliberately misleading information put lives at risk. While it might take a while before we get a COVID-19 vaccine, we have an antidote for fake news that can be scaled up to eradicate this pandemic – we call it honesty and integrity.

Much of the discussion on dealing with fake news is left to the listener/receiver to identify the facts, determine if the source is reliable, and help by informing others about mistruth.  While these are absolutely important, they are mostly response measures, much like the medicine one takes once they have been infected or the masks we all use to avoid getting or passing the infection along. But the real antidote, or fake news vaccine, is creating a culture of truth and honesty, by holding leaders, in whatever capacity, accountable in what they say and what they do. It is interesting and important to note, that in looking at a list of what people consider to be the most desirable traits of leaders, honesty and integrity are at the top. If we have more leaders who are trustworthy and show integrity, then we can live in a world where fake news is no longer a pandemic.

So how does this tie into Friendship? Trust is the foundation of true friendship, and if we promote friendship values such as honesty and integrity, we will form relationships that will be open and caring as one human being should be to another. If we lead with friendship, we can build a world that is more inclusive, respectful of diversity, and compassionate.

As we consider a day set up to honor and raise awareness of the importance of global friendship, we can envision this foundation of friendship, with honesty as its cornerstone as the way to build a peaceful and better world. As the UN states: “To confront those crises and challenges, their root causes must be addressed by promoting and defending a shared spirit of human solidarity that takes many forms — the simplest of which is friendship.”  

If we support leaders who promote honesty and integrity – values that are necessary and non-negotiable in establishing relationships – then harmony and global solidarity will follow. Hence, we need to not only acknowledge this day of Friendship, we need to celebrate it and advocate for it as a critical part of our humanity. COVID-19 is a real pandemic that has devastated the lives of millions and impacted billions. Let’s not allow the second pandemic to deepen the devastation. This is one pandemic we can and must eliminate. We have a vaccine in the form of honesty and integrity, and if we can create a world built on true friendship, we can eliminate even the possibility of a second wave.

I hope you can join me in our celebration of global friendships, and our mission to promote a world built on friendship.