Sunday, December 16, 2012

On Friendship's Unheralded Benefits

Personal Society


The worst solitude is to be destitute of sincere friendship.
Francis Bacon, British philosopher, scientist & statesman

Nobody sees a flower—really— it is so small it takes time—we haven't time— and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
Georgia O'Keefe, American artist

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another,
"What! You too? I thought I was the only one."
C.S. Lewis, British author, academic & Christian apologist

Friendship is a gift. And if you have a friend, or two, you are fortunate. A friend is someone with whom you can share your most intimate thoughts as well as your most distressing fears and your highest joys. A friend will do what he can to make your life better. In the highest case, a friend gives of himself in a selfless way, to do good, a thought that Aristotle developed in the virtue of  Philia, or Friendship
Genuine friendship must be based on goodness; what rests on pleasantness (as with the young), or on utility (as with the old), is only to be recognized conventionally as friendship. In perfection it cannot subsist without perfect mutual knowledge, and only between the good; hence it is not possible for anyone to have many real friends
Such thoughts might sound as mere idealism to some, but we need ideals to reach upward, to counter the forces of pragmatism that pull us down. Everyone yearns for true friends, even the wealthy, powerful and popular. Popularity and fame is not the same thing as friendship. Such makes friendship and having a friend or two rare.

This might come as a surprise to people who claim hundreds if not thousands of friends on social-networking sites. Can you really be friends with hundreds, thousands of people? Unlikely. Most are what we called acquaintances, companions, or business associates in my day. You are connected. You are sharing. You are commenting.

All of these are might be necessary in some form in friendship. But there's more. You share common interests, but it has not gone beyond the first tentative stages. Friendship takes work, and much more. It's not easy to make friends, despite the technology to connect people. And wishing for a friend will not necessarily bring you one. As Aristotle once said: "Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit." 

Assuredly so. Friendship requires nurturing, and a listening ear, quiet time alone, the opposite of what takes place on social-networking sites. Networking has its decided benefits, to impart and share information. But it is of a different order, which alone does not make friendship. Friendship requires proximity, nearness, intimacy.

The Four Loves: C.S. Lewis: "Again, that which values the collective above the individual disparages Friendship; it is relations between men at their highest level of individuality. It withdraws men from collective 'togetherness' as surely as solitude itself could do; and more dangerously, for it withdraws them by two's and three's. Some forms of democratic sentiment are naturally hostile to it because it is selective and an affront to the few" (94).

Of the four loves, friendship is the least recognized. For others, it is of no consequence, possibly because as C.S. Lewis says, "few experience it." Yet, its virtues are undeniably real to the people who do experience it. Friendship is not the same as companionship, the getting together of two or more friends, explains C.S. Lewis, well-known British author and academic, in The Four Loves
Friendship arises out of mere companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one." (100)
Such explains why friendship takes much more to develop than sharing words and thoughts over the Internet or any other electronic medium. In many ways, friendship is like a marriage, a marriage of two or more persons with common interests. Friendship is sharing and caring for each other and the being there for the good and the bad: goals, desires, hurts and failures.

It involves laughing and crying, anger and tears, pulling in and pushing away. But there is always forgiveness and a gentle reminder that what brought you together is more important than what divides you.

Yes, friendship involves the whole range of human emotions. In friendship, as in marriage, you place yourself in your friend's hands, as you do a delicate flower. You have the freedom to be your self, which is a freedom denied to many. It is said that women are better than men at making friends. That might be so, for reasons that get to the heart of friendship.

There is a vulnerability, which makes friendship a difficult endeavor for many. The benefits, however, are innumerable. I have been fortunate to have a few good friends during my lifetime, to share both sorrow and joy. I have been richer for it. Today I am equally happy to report that I have a good friend, with whom I can be myself, in good times and in bad. You probably guessed it by now. My best friend is my wife.

What about you? Who is your best friend?

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A version of this post was published on Perry J. Greenbaum.