RECENTLY I have had cause to ponder on an issue which I have taken for granted but which upon reflection strikes me as something worthy of writing about. The matter that has caught my attention and made me think is the problem of friendship.
I recall many years ago someone whom I had a very rudimentary acquaintance with saying to me that they wanted to be my friend. I recall at the time being slightly nonplussed and rather non-committal towards this request. I found it odd.
Thinking back on the incident, I realised that what seemed from one vantage point to be a rather innocent suggestion or request, represented exactly the kind of conversation upon which friendships could never be formed. Why is this so?
My sense is that one cannot “apply” to be someone’s friend without any deeper context, shared interest or bond and I dare say if it was possible to apply or request such a position, there would be something not quite right about it. Friendships are built and developed, not applied for. A decision to easily ask to be a friend can — it seems to me — just as easily be reversed.
My limited experience is that friendships grow over time and they often develop as a result of some shared interest or experience which brings us together and acts as the fuel and sustenance for the development of our bond. I do not think that one can authentically succeed in being a friend of someone abstractly without some process of forming a bond and shared interest or experience. Friendship is a practical relationship built over time and is a result often of doing other things.
Upon reading the work of C.S. Lewis, I realised that the clumsy intuition I held in regard to friendship was not as odd or perhaps silly as I had wondered. Lewis’ essay Friendship — The Least Necessary Love provides an interesting exploration of the problem of friendship and furthermore reminds us of the classical roots of Lewis’ conception of friendship and the continued significance of classical understandings of friendship despite or perhaps because of the way in which our understandings of the term have changed over time.
Among the many nuggets of wisdom contained in Lewis’ essay, he points out in comparing friends to lovers that: “Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; friends hardly ever talk about friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.”
Lewis provides us with what he refers to as “the typical expression of opening friendship” which he points out often starts with some kind of opening line: “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”Note that friendship is not opened by some kind of application or vague theoretical desire. To come out of the blue and say “let’s be friends” is not the normal opening line for the development of a friendship. Lewis is quite explicit and caustically so on this point.
He writes: “That is why those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any. The very condition of having friends is that we should want something else besides friends.”
The key to the development and sustenance of friendship is that it is often formed as part of a process or practices aimed at other things. Common purpose in some task or issue, shared experience that provides some sense of belonging and develops the basis for friendship is important. Often when we think of the problems associated with people failing to develop friendships, we pay insufficient attention to the process that underpins the successful creation of friends. Why can’t we just be friends, we ask? If the argument in this piece of writing has any credence, the problem of friendship involves a lot more than simply wanting to be friends at a particular moment in time.
Understanding the importance of developing shared common purposes is something that is often dismissed in a world focused on self-regard and pure individual achievement.
Recognising that friendship, which the ancients saw as a school of virtue, rests often on processes of involvement in shared interest and experience is something we should pay attention to. Friendship takes time to develop. It is often the result of involvement in other things. The social importance of this ought not to be underestimated, especially in our educational institutions. JAMES CAMPBELL - NST Learning Curve 6 JULY 2014 @ 8:00 AM