Monday, 15 September 2008

What's the measure of friendship?

It's an question that's been on my mind for quite some time. People go "I have many friends...or I only keep a few close friends". Of course, defining what a friend is, is central to the question. However, friendship is the core issue and someone who maintains a real friendship is by definition a true friend.

The discerning may ask, "Well is there such a thing as an 'unreal' friendship?" Sure. That's where someone claims to keep a friendship or simulates it very very well. There are some people who take a big interest in what you say and what you do. However, you come to a nagging awareness at a gut level that that interest is an investment for their future possible needs.

Well, yes friendship is different things to different people - and yes 'it depends', those famous words often uttered by idiots who like to live on the fence.

Oh and I should declare a bias, that I hope does not upset some who think they are my friends - I only ever had one very serious friendship. He died about 23 years ago. You will notice I refer to the word friendship. It is a qualitative thing, similar to 'friend'. However, friend is more a fixed kind of thing. It lends to the idea that either you're a friend or not - or that your 'in' or 'out'.

But friendship can have 'shades of grey'. In other words there can be degrees of friendship. And we all know about this at a gut level. In a circle of friendships, there are those people one keeps closer to than others. That may be based on different qualities and how you weigh those qualities up. If you value someone who listens attentively you might rate one who is a good listener highly. Another person may value 'trust' more than listening skills. So for that latter person s/he will keep different sets of people closer.

The meaning of friendship as I know it, and how I think others might value it, is as follows. None of the following ideas are meant to be well demarcated.

  1. Genuine interest in what each other think and do. And I must distinguish this from the obvious 'patronising interest'. And genuine interest would cover things like 'caring', protecting, helping.
  2. Total disregard for status, wealth, power or influence. Yes true friendship cannot be contaminated by these things.
  3. Friendship is not about sexual relations. In general I think that friendship is not to be contaminated by primary 'survival' or biological needs. That's a different thing to my mind. I think that biological and social needs are about satisfying herd instincts. I see friendship as a purer psychological phenomenon i.e. it is not necessary to have 'biological' or 'social' glue to hold the friendship together.
  4. Respect for what each other stands for. No person is perfect. Having respect (and I'll not be distracted by defining 'respect') for what each other does well is central.
  5. A willingness to give. No I'm not talking money. I'm talking about the things money can never buy e.g. time, effort, help, genuine consideration, listening, genuine feedback. How would you know it's genuine. You feel it in your bones.
  6. Boundaries. Yes - whilst friendship is a unifying space, each member of the friendship retains individuality. It is individuality and boundaries which, strangely to some, maintain a friendship.
  7. Building. Friendship is something that builds and fortifies. Two or more minds working as a whole are stronger than the force of each added together. It's a different kind of mathematics.

The things that test the integrity of friendship, or the possibility of friendships are:

  1. Money - or lack of it.
  2. Fame or good fortune.
  3. Power
  4. An attractive potential mate.
  5. Scarcity of essentials basic to life.
  6. Time pressure.
  7. Illness or disease.
  8. Disagreement.

The list is by far incomplete.

What about love? No - to my mind that is state of mind driven by survival instincts. But that's a big and separate debate.  And I'm not in the right spot to debate the number of different kinds of love people might conceptualise.

There is a kind of superficiality to friendships, where people go 'Oh let's move on...nothing is ever perfect'. Nope that's not my thing.

Who are the people who find closer friendships with me? (notice the word 'closer'). Easy - people who subscribe to my values and my modus operandi - people with very thick skins on their backs, who are willing to go 100 extra miles. If you're not in, I'm happy that you're out.

I don't know if I'm right. It wasn't my intention to be right about it. I just wanted to put these thoughts that have been in me for many many years. I may modify them as I learn more.

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