Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Reflections on FRIENDSHIP

In a culture of accomplishments, achievements, and especially of transactions, one of the most expensive prices we all pay is the real and potential loss, by-pass, ignoring, discarding or even rejection of FRIENDSHIP. Many are so fixated on developing our resume, complete with multiple references, while dealing with the daily duties of career, parenting, networking and perhaps even recreation that the time actually required for friendship to develop, unless one is in a restricted space for a long time with others equally confined, is unavailable. Another way of saying this is to say that we make the choices that make friendship unlikely.

Nevertheless, friendship is not only a sine qua non of each of our lives; it is also essential for each other person of our acquaintance. And yet, friendship is not “another business contract”. How often have we heard the phrase, from business and professional careerists, “I have to deal with that person but I do not have to become a friend with that person.”

Friendship expects many of the same responses we initially offer. Of course, checking in to find out how we are (really) doing is a good beginning. And after that…..well what kind of time is available to really explore mutual interests, or even to discover if there are any? And if we find an interest that another explores, how might it be possible to find a connection point to have a real conversation about more that the weather, the Trumpocalypse, the rising or falling price of gas, or the latest sports score?

Canadians are renowned for our determined and deliberate avoidance of topics that might arouse conflict, especially politics or religion. We are so acculturated into a mind-set that anyone who invades our private space by presuming to ask our real opinions about something we have not already “been public” about is considered invasive, presumptuous, aggressive, impolitic, and a “shit disturber”. This dynamic is especially noticeable in a culture born and raised on a diet of parental and pedagogical control. Frightened parents are especially focused on the control of their offspring’s vocabulary as well as their attitudes, not to mention their choices of friends. Those frightened parents are also quite unsettled if their children come home from school with tales about conversations in their class about topics their parents consider “out of bounds”…especially if the conversation in the classroom breaches a parent’s belief system, political ideology or socially compatible attitude.

“Eros has naked bodies; friendship has naked personalities.” (C.S. Lewis)

Here is a perspective that many would believe does not apply to the adolescent classroom. Nevertheless, growing up is a process through which each of us search for and find those attitudes, perspectives and even individuals with whom we seem to feel comfortable and those who make us less than comfortable. Both are potentially part of our pool of friends, depending on how we respond to their words, actions and beliefs. Literature, the compendium of the imaginations of those courageous enough to submit their lives to paper for the centuries, is filled with all of the range of topics, issues, personalities and perspectives we inherit as part of our unique culture. And while exploring the pages of literature we are not only invited to explore our own responses to those topics, personalities and perspectives, especially to compare our views with those of the writer but also compelled to conduct such an intimate exploration.
It is the “naked personalities” that are available through the novels, the plays and the poems that invite us into an albeit somewhat detached and distant “relationship” with those writers. And in that encounter, facilitated by a skillful teacher, adolescents are offered opportunities for both growth and guidance from within their own imaginations. While exploring the characters in the stories, students can speculate, postulate and imagine how they might respond if they were in a similar situation, with similar people.

Befriending authors and/or their characters is another window on friendship, not available on similar terms in real life…Movies too provide similar opportunities, with a much smaller time commitment usually.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like  art…it has no survival value, rather it is one of those things that give value to survival”……(C.S. Lewis)

Giving value to survival….that is the gift of both the encounter with literature and also with people courageous enough to disclose their vulnerability, in a sacred space of trust, a space in which both parties commit to privacy ad confidentiality.

John Powell, S.J. scholar and double doctorate, once wrote a little book entitled. “Why I don’t tell you who I am” in which he explained that telling another “who I am” is all I have, and if you reject that I have nothing left. Naked personalities, shared in confidence, consequently is a very rare and special experience, one often forfeited by those fearing rejection. Having been on both sides of this equation, the one fearing rejection and also the one who felt like a ghost for never been fully encountered, neither experience is without pain, and a pain that lasts for decades, if not as long as one breathes.

On the other hand, once having fully experienced the kind of friendship of which Lewis would be respectful, a naked sharing of personalities, there is really no other experience so memorable and so rewarding and so life-giving. Sadly, such a relationship is not often available between children and their parents, nor between children and their grandparents. It is not available as a norm between teachers and their students, although that might be more likely, given the intermittent occasions of the encounter. It is clearly not available to most workers with their colleagues, nor with their employers. In the church too, such naked personality sharing is so often encumbered with the encrustation of “perfectionism” being substituted for a legitimate spiritual pilgrimage.

And yet, one’s spiritual life, at least as understood from here, is the most intimate and most vibrant aspect of one’s life: topping one’s intellect, one’s profession, one’s travel, one’s athletic prowess, one’s artistic talents (although one’s imagination is inextricably entwined with one’s spirit). Surely, in order to remain vibrant, one’s spirit has to be engaged in a kind of interactive tension with others, or at least one other, in a mutually committed and mutually “naked” sharing of one’s biography complete with the high’s and low’s, the successes, failures along with the fears, anxieties, aspirations and dreams.

Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat….these are not the instruments, necessarily, of a growing and deepening friendship. They each have limited opportunities to share, and at root area based on a concentration span of perhaps three nanoseconds. “Like” clicked on a photo is like the fickle applause at a rock concert, not the kind of evidence on which a developing friendship depends.

Is there anyone out there who shares a deep scepticism about the kinds of human interactions our culture fosters? Is there anyone else who shares an acknowledged and too often unfed appetite for friendship that gives real value to survival?
Of course there are likely millions who are quietly nurturing friendships which elevate their very survival to one worthy of considerable energy, commitment and passion.


That dynamic is like a beacon in an otherwise dark night of political, economic, academic and religious ambition. Let’s hope and envision the beacon’s light growing brighter, not fading, at a time when “what have you done for me lately?” is the test too many human encounters function upon. 

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