On Friendship: Unfinished Assertions

In this post, I would like to explore the idea of friendship. Ever since I read CS Lewis’s “Four Loves”, I have realised what an aid it can be to abstract the nature of human relationships. however, I continue to ponder his ideas. This post is not so much a conclusion to these pondering, but rather an account of some of them, in the hope that perhaps we can find ourselves pondering this idea together!

Of course, each and every relationship that one has with another person has it’s own “soul”, so to speak, and is different from every other. However, I agree with Lewis that there among these complexities, there are certain types. Some relationships are more like some and less like others. I personally find this differentiation useful to reflect upon, in order to value a little more what one has.

In line with this spirit of differentiation, I would like to start by distinguishing friendship from companionship. Companionship is sharing a common interest, like fencing, or memes. I went to the same school as somebody: I was his companion. This is not necessarily friendship, as it does not necessarily indicate sympathy, or even knowing a person much at all. This is not meant to put down companionship, which is all well and good, but simply to distinguish it.

Friendship is a little more substantial than being in the same group, or even sympathising (but rather empathising). Friendship really starts with a realised common ground, a discovered empathy: To paraphrase Lewis: It begins with a “Oh! You too? I thought I was the only one!” moment.

File:WinslowHomer-Eight Bells 1886.jpg

Winslow Homer – Eight Bells 1886

So friendship starts with a moment of empathy. After that, it can grow like a plant in the sun. Of course, like a plant in the sun, it can also diminish. But really I think that’s not to be seen as a bad thing, but rather something to be valued: Friendship, though valuable, is light. Of course, it could deepen, and last a lifetime. For this reason, I agree with the idea that a friendship can vary tremendously in degree, yet remain friendship

Although it is more than a common interest, it also retains a degree of passivity. It may not always seem evident until it’s no longer there. However, it is not apathetic, quite the contrary. Despite this evasiveness, I think it lends itself to frankness, and clarity: A simple alliance.


I must admit, I’m finding this concept extremely hard to put down in words. I hope to continue to formalise my understanding as time goes by. Friendship’s very clarity, and yet lightness, and simple empathy is, I would argue, an extremely undervalued (or perhaps watered down) relationship in this weighted, complex world.

Although, I am not yet satisfied with this explanation, I do hope that it has shed some light on the value of friendship. In future, I hope to formalise my understanding a little more, and maybe even come up with (or find!) a definition that concisely captures the uniqueness and of this subtle human relationship. So would appreciate any gems ye can share on this topic!

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2 comments

  1. Hey Joe! I enjoyed reading this- I have never considered friendship in quite this way before. Just wondering; how far do you think friendship is about this ‘You too?’ moment? I could talk about the stereotype of how friends involving opposites often can enlighten and challenge both participants in ways that would not work if they were too similar. Although I suppose you could counter that with the idea that without a common understanding (extending beyond peripheral aesthetic differences), friendship would not work, and you need an essence of empathy (not just sympathy! ;) ) there in the first place… There are lots of subtleties to this though, as you mentioned, because you could say that all people technically share aspects of of this through the condition of being human- how far does this bond two people in a friendship, versus bond the whole of humankind… :D Just thoughts :D

    1. Exactly… and that’s one of the things bugging me so much about the idea. I find it hard to imagine a friendship starting from anything less than some kind of shared idea/experience that distinguishes some from others. But at the same time, some of the best friendships seem to be based around their differences. So perhaps only the start needs a similarity, and from then on the differences act as a fuel, a potential for a future deeper understanding.
      And then of course, as you mentioned, there’s the question of differentiating friendship from a general empathy for humanity. Is friendship only different in measure from a general goodwill for humanity? Is a friend qualifiably different from a companion? Now, I’d like to think that it is, but I’m not really sure because the concept seems so fluid and vague (possibly because of modern use. Maybe I should borrow the Greek word Philia, or something).

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