A lunch-break meditation on friendship

What makes us friends with somebody?

Marriage v Friendship

“Marriage” is an easier thing to understand. It is a civil contract and/or religious covenant with a defined beginning, defined rights and duties, and defined end. When entering or staying in a marriage, motives and conduct don’t matter. A person who got married for money or social position is nonetheless married. A selfish and unfaithful husband or wife remains a husband or wife. Such behavior can lead to a marriage’s end, but doesn’t dissolve the marriage then and there.

Not so with friendship. Becoming, staying, and ceasing to be friends lacks definite boundaries, although they can be effected by specific choices and events. What are the bases of friendship that a specific choice or event might either nurture or harm?

The Bases of Friendship: Mutual Admiration and Respect for Otherness

I think friendship requires mutual admiration and respect for the otherness of the friend. Where mutual admiration is lacking, one person simply becomes a hanger on, flunky, or entourage member of the other. Chuck Jones’s wonderful Chester and Spike cartoons come to mind.

So. how does admiration arise or disappear?

Admiration comes from our sense of another person’s character. (“The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”) There is something intrinsic to someone else that draws our admiration, or ceases to.

Of course, we can mistake someone’s character. Or someone’s character might change or only reveal itself over time. This leads us to the subject of otherness. Respecting otherness means respecting autonomy and difference on matters that don’t go to character.

Mistakes v Flaws

Mistakes in perception, reasoning, or judgment don’t necessarily prove defects in character. Yet, in these stressed times, how often have you read or heard someone declare, “And if you don’t agree with me on this, unfriend me now, or I’ll unfriend you.”

What sort of person would make such a demand on a friend? What sort of person would accede to it where he or she did not actually agree? We’re not talking about doing friends a favor, or accommodating them or yielding to their wishes out of goodwill. We’re talking about surrendering one’s autonomy and sense of self.

Saving Room for Friendship in Our Lives and Other Peoples’

Can what survives such an ultimatum, where one person makes it and/or the other person accedes to it, be called a friendship?

I have my doubts.

Don’t you?

If so, let’s save room for friendship in our lives and other peoples’.

Let us strive to look on the heart.

Back to work…


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