Max Gentleman and Karl Kirschner — Spearheading Myths About Friendship — The Re-engineered You

Todd Lemense
8 min readDec 2, 2020

Max Gentleman, a Jewish BOW in Germany, had two strikes against him. He had a pair of red triangles stitched onto his back, which identified him as the Jewish American Soldier, and he’d already tried to escape the concentration camps, twice unsuccessfully. This meant that any German Soldier who saw him escaping a third time could shoot Max dead with no questions asked. So, you might understand that when a German camp guard and an officer named Karl Kirschner, helped him crawl out under the barbed wire fence, it was a big risk for Max.

The funny part is when Max and Karl escape the first time, they didn’t get very far. The Jewish sniper and the German pilot weren’t ready to make a break for the American lines quite yet. No, when they escaped the first time, they fled all the way to Karl ‘s Grandma’s house for sandwiches, cigars, Cognac, and to play chess and grandma’s barn.

You see, Max knew little German and Karl knew a little English. Together, they started smoking and chatting near the camp’s fence line. The two became fast friends, discussing news about the war, the Nazi regime, and Max’s hometown of Milwaukee. So, one of the men found out they both play chess, it was game on. As the strange friendship blossomed, the men would also discover a mutual hatred for life under the right. In fact, it was German officer Karl who first suggested a real escape.

During their meeting, Karl told Max that when the Russians finally pushed into Germany, it would mean Karl ‘s death since he was an SS Lieutenant. Karl said, “I talked to my mom. I told her I don’t think I would be able to survive here much longer. So, what are we gonna do about it?” Max’s reply? “What’s this “we”?” Of course, Max was only joking, and it wasn’t long before Karl ‘s family was forging their documents and gathering supplies for the escape.

It’s been my experience that it’s much easier to find a romantic connection than a true friend. Today we are exploring myths about friendship, myths about making friends both in person and on social media. We will dive deep to find out what we really need from our connections and what it takes to hold onto a good friend.

Myth 1: How bad can not having friends be for our health? If we don’t have any friends, it’s not like we’re going to die, right?

Opposites surely have attracted friends throughout history. But it’s natural to want to be drawn to people that we have something in common with. We like people who have a similar interest, are a similar age, etc. We generally want to attract people who will agree with us. And that’s not always the best thing for us, as it doesn’t provide us with a broader perspective on things. We covered that a bit on one of our other episodes, but one of the things we keep coming back to is the bigger perspective you have by the connections.

Is friendship something we need? Yes, absolutely. Friendship reduces stress because, generally speaking, less isolation means more significant stress reduction. And when you are stressed, the more you are, the more cortisol you have, which can harm your health, causing immune system disorders, insomnia, digestive problems, heart issues, diabetes, blood pressure, and much more. Friendship offers you that emotional support to reduce stress overall.

One of my favorite facts about friendship: obesity and weight loss is apparently contagious between friends. This comes from a Live Science article, and they found that when a close friend becomes obese, you have a 57% higher chance of becoming obese too. They got this data from the New England Journal of Medicine.

This means that if you are around particularly healthy people, you will more than likely be healthy as well, and vice versa. You want to fit in with them and not feel shamed or out outcasted. Plus, healthy friends can support and motivate you to become a better version of yourself. In addition, waist circumference, body inflammation, and general shape we’re all worse in people who had weaker social ties. And that’s from the National Academy of Science. So, it’s not just the waistline; It’s general health and inflammation, and we’ve talked about how inflammation is an indicator of other health problems.

Now there is, of course, the mental part. You need to make friends who will keep you sharp and challenge your mind on a health level, as it potentially reduces the risk for dementia. Although studies found no direct cause between loneliness and dementia, the two were associated. So, if somebody has dementia, there’s a good chance they’ve been lonely as well.

Myth 2: Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult? And once we have adult friends, how do we keep them when everyone is just so busy?

Now, if we’re not making friends in an enclosed space like a prison camp, how do we make friends? Why is it so hard as an adult to make friends? Well, when you get out of school, you are not in the same class with hundreds of other kids like you being forced together. When you are not chained together anymore, it makes it hard to find new people. But as a general rule of thumb, you have to find somebody and then you have to spend time with them to build your relationship.

With that in mind, we are going to talk about an article in the New York Times by Rebecca Adams from the University of North Carolina. She identified the crucial components of making close friends as adults.

· The first one is proximity because you have to physically meet someone to read body language and behavior to see if you can communicate with them.

· The second is repeated unplanned interactions. This is taking the time to hang around the other person and not plan what you are going to say; you let the moments happen organically. This is where you find more about them and connective things.

· The third is to go to a setting that encourages people to let their guard down. You want to have moments where you can relax and be yourself.

As adults, everyone is busy, but when you really want something to happen, you make the time for it. Being tired, busy, and not scheduling in time for friends is more so a choice, and you are merely not prioritizing it enough like the other aspects of your life. The best thing you can do is reach out, do the hobbies you love, and meet people in those places who you know like the same things in general.

Myth 3: Well, if we can’t make real-life friends, at least we have Facebook and Twitter. Having 20 online friends can fill the void of one flesh and blood pal, right?

In summary, social media does not really cut it for friendship. You can see what others are doing and up to, but it does not replace friendship, and even science bears that out. Even though everyone tries to replace friendship with social media, it never works that way. Did you know that Facebook has a max friend limit of 5,000 people? This is funny because, according to Dunbar’s number, that is way over the amount that our brains can handle. Dunbar’s number is about 150 people, so for each of us, we can usually handle that number of people being real in our minds. You can connect their faces, body language, and social cues when you meet together. In the end, your brain will start deleting people after 150. You’ll begin to forget their life stories. For a more comprehensive breakdown, here is what your brain can ultimately handle:

· 150 casual friends (groom-able friends)

· 50 close friends, ones you would invite to dinner and can remember significant details

· 15 friends that you can confide in

· 5 best friends, very close friends

Indiana University did a study where they analyzed millions of tweets over the course of about six months. They broke them down into conversations and tracked them to see how many friendships a person could handle or maintain. So, this is Twitter, where there’s an infinite amount of conversations, people, and nearly an endless amount of people you can call “friends.” It turns out that an individual could only maintain 100 to 200 connections at any given time.

Normally, you would forget some people’s birthdays. You would forget who their dad is. You would start forgetting things about your people outside of your 150. With social media, you don’t have to take notes like that. Facebook is keeping notes, and it will remind you when the birthdays, etc. So, it is not that you are making connections with others; it is that you have a social media outlet reminding you of details, and that is not what real friendships are based on.

Furthermore, you can’t touch them, meaning you are missing out on endorphins and hormones. You’re also missing out on social vulnerability, especially in conflict management. Facebook is designed to be anti-conflict, aka blocking people and reporting. If you get into a conflict with a real friend, you don’t block them or ignore; you work it out and respect each other afterward. That’s a good, healthy friendship.

Final Thoughts

Having friends comes with a whole host of benefits. A strong network of friends can keep your mind sharp, your body healthy, and your waistline trim. Not to mention the direct support friends can provide when you fall on hard times, like when you need a couch to land on after a breakup or a sympathetic ear when you get fired.

Making friends could be a simple combination of proximity, repeated interactions, and comfortable settings. But it starts with proximity, which means stepping away from the computer or from Netflix. Block out real, substantial time to socialize. Give yourself an activity to do, make a goal, and focus on mutual interest. Also, remember to find quiet moments to talk in earnest.

Social media is a tool. It can help us stay connected and give you an emotional boost from time to time. But social media is only that, a tool. Facebook can’t replace real, valuable, interfacing, endorphin producing, person-to-person interactions. Besides, how would our story with Karl and Max ended if they had been content with sending each other funny gifts through the barbed wire? Maybe we should take on the cues from our odd couple, find ourselves a nice barn, some Cognac, and play a game of chess to enjoy together.

Suggested Read: A Tale of Two Soldiers

Originally published at on December 2, 2020.