Friendship – a ‘being’ and ‘becoming’
If I make an attempt to understand friendship in the abstract in the course of this essay, I would most certainly be unsuccessful. Therefore, my attempt in this essay is to share an understanding of ‘friendship’ which is rooted in my own subjective experience, personal and inter-personal. And that makes good sense because you can’t talk about friendship unless you have known a friend. Friendship is not a concept in the abstract; it is a dynamic relationship that two individuals share and through which they grow, emotionally and spiritually. There are no ‘references’ that I can cite, except my own experience. So, dear reader, while I will make every attempt not to sound autobiographical, the ideas that will emerge herein have crystallized over years of understanding, as I learned more and more about friendship and as I continue doing so. Read critically, for though I am not a philosopher or an expert on human relations, I might well sound profound. Indeed, my friends have told me I have a propensity for profundity.
Perhaps the most universal and dynamic of all relationships is friendship. A friend can scold you when you are going wayward, lift your spirits when you are feeling low, enable your dreams when you are faltering, listen to you when you want to talk, expand your world-view by offering alternatives to the way you look at things, and help you transform yourself if you’re lucky enough to find such a friend. Her presence makes you happy for she understands you when you don’t understand yourself. The beauty of this relationship lies in our ability to choose it. It’s not a relationship we are born into. It is a relationship we nurture and develop, sometimes by chance but always with patience and with love. To be clear, what I am referring to is the deepest level of friendship, not a superficial one. And, if it isn’t already obvious, there are levels of friendship. A ‘friend’ and a ‘stranger’ are just the two extremes. There are many levels in between. From a ‘stranger’ to a ‘friend’ is a continuum of levels, seamless as they are. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to tell when a ‘stranger’ becomes a ‘friend’.
Who is a ‘friend’? In any social context, people communicate. They interact, for mutual benefit. The greater the interaction, the greater is the chance of a friendship developing between two individuals. This is the usual norm. So, is it that a friend is someone you talk to, go to movies with, and share your things with? No, there is something more, something deeper to it, and something that I believe is at the core of any ‘friendship’. And by ‘friendship’, I don’t mean a convenient social contract with a purely utilitarian purpose. By ‘friendship’, I mean a ‘connection’ that one shares with another individual. This ‘connection’ enables us to grow within, through our friendships. Every ‘friend’ was once a ‘stranger’. The reason someone is a friend is because, in your interactions with her, you have discovered an individual you can relate to in a way that you cannot to someone who is not a friend but a mere acquaintance or maybe even a stranger. The transformation from being ‘strangers’ to ‘friends’ is a process of mutual discovery – of ideas, of habits, and of eccentricities. As you discover a friend, you expand your consciousness of yourself. You begin to learn things you wouldn’t have otherwise learned. Your friend helps you to look at yourself differently. You begin to value your friend. When you value your friend, and your friend values you, a sense of belonging and mutual understanding develops. A friend is someone with whom you can ‘just be’, and ‘become’. The degree of friendship is a function of the degree to which you can ‘be’, and ‘become’, through your friendship. I’ll explain.
In society, we often put up facades. Often “friendship” is one of these facades and we may not even know that. We might really, genuinely, sincerely believe in the truth of our “friendships”. That you talk to and interact with another individual might make you believe she is a friend. That there is one on your “friends list” on one of the many social networking websites might make you believe the same thing. The truth, however, is that you can’t ‘just be’ with each one of these “friends”. That is, you can’t be your uninhibited, natural self, unconscious of being judged by those around you. There are, then, degrees of friendship for people who don’t always ‘be’. The degree of friendship depends on the extent to which you can ‘be’ with your friends. There are “friends” you only talk to occasionally. There are those you talk to very often. The degree of friendship, however, is not merely a function of the frequency of such interactions. While that may be a factor, it is primarily a function of how deep such interactions are, in terms of the degree to which you can ‘just be’. This classification of friendship in terms of the degree to which you can ‘be’ in your interactions with others might appear a bit strange upon first encounter. But take a moment to think about it: Do you not feel more comfortable in the company of some friends compared to others? Do you not connect better with some people than many others? Do you not share your secrets with only a few really close friends?
The other criterion that determines the degree of friendship is the opportunity and the capacity to ‘become’ in the company of your friend. If the presence of the friend in your life adds value to both, your life and hers, if it helps you both be more than what you would be if you were not friends, then your ‘friendship’ is in a real sense, the deepest. The simple test is: ‘What difference would it make to my life if I had not found this friend?’ That is, it is when a friend contributes meaningfully to your emotional and spiritual growth, as you do to hers, that you know your friendship is truly something invaluable, something to be treasured, and cherished.
Indeed, friendship is at the core of any nurturing relationship. No relationship carries any meaning unless it is founded in friendship. If you’re not a friend to your relatives, you won’t be able to relate to them. And, anyway, relationships that we are born into become a burden if there is no sense of friendship and love underlying them. We don’t choose our relatives but we do choose our friends. The core problem with dysfunctional families is the lack of a sense of friendship and love, primarily because members of the family do not contribute meaningfully towards each other’s growth. They look upon each other as liabilities. A teacher who enables you is your friend because she helps you ‘become’. Even love, romantic or otherwise, has to be founded in friendship, a sense of belonging together, based on the ‘connection’ one shares with a friend. Friendship is, indeed, the key that unlocks the real potential of any relationship.
To sum it up, the few essential ideas are: you cannot know ‘friendship’ unless you know a ‘friend’, there is a continuum of levels between being ‘friends’ and ‘strangers’, a friend is someone with whom you can just ‘be’ and ‘become’ and that friendship is the essential foundation for any other relationship to be meaningful and nurturing. Indeed, even the exercise of writing this essay is one of growing up, of sharing the beauty of what I have learnt about friendship, and of expressing my gratitude to my dearest friends, who may or may not read this, for giving me a chance to learn what friendship is. Though I am sure there are many more dimensions to friendship than I have managed to explore, this essay merely sums up my subjective experience of ‘friendship’. And needless to say, I am still learning.