Friendship has declined into a weak and trivial notion in our modern era. It is romantic love that permeates every particle of our popular culture and occupies a place of supreme importance. Love stories, romance, and passion are the top themes of music, history, literature, and film. Romantic love is depicted as the ultimate union, the only such union that can abate the essential quandary of human existence: loneliness.
Meanwhile, the word “friend”is so broadly used as to include virtually any kind of connection or alliance with another human being. The thesaurus cites a wide range of synonyms, including acquaintance, classmate, contact, colleague, and neighbor. A person’s social media “friends” are likely to be people we have never personally met or whom we have never had a face-to-face conversation. It's clear that we do not know what friendship is.
Our personal relational world includes a scattering of people we know casually. Within this circle of acquaintances, there are individuals we interact with more regularly because life puts us in close and frequent proximity. These may be co-workers, neighbors, or regulars at the gym.
Among this assortment of acquaintances, we often find those we refer to as a kindred spirit – someone with whom we have enough in common to feel comfortable interacting with and enjoy relating to. Some kindred spirits become friends in the fullest sense - persons with whom we can fully be ourselves, share our most private tragedies and triumphs and reveal our weaknesses and failures without fear of judgment or embarrassment. It is a relationship where we feel safe to strip away our polished persona and show our real self, vulnerable and imperfect.
We need a person or two in our lives that we trust to invite into our innermost thoughts and feelings and the intricate details of our lives. When we truly know a person genuinely wants the best for us, we are willing to receive their love and acceptance as well as their honest feedback and constructive criticism in areas such as our limiting beliefs or defects in character. The mutual trust, vulnerability, and camaraderie of this association press each to realize their highest potentialities and possibilities. This kind of friendship yields immense gratification, for not only is there joy in seeking the highest good for oneself, but to encourage the same in another.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is unnecessary like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Perhaps the reason we think so lightly of friendship is that we don’t view it as necessary. And yet true friendship is a rewarding pathway to living life well. It does not happen accidentally. True friendship requires deliberate and sustained attention and effort. No relationship is perfect or absent of adversity and conflict. Navigating difficult times can deepen and strengthen the bonds of real friendship.
All kinds of acquaintances, connections, and associations with people pop up in our lives based on our circumstances. We do not necessarily get to choose our neighbors, co-workers or others sprinkled along our everyday paths of life. But each of us can choose to cultivate authentic, meaningful and mutually enriching friendships. Seneca wrote, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”
Jim Palmer Author, 2019. © All rights reserved