“Man has an eternal longing for companionship.”
With that line I begin my analysis of friendship. Indeed, my views are not entirely common, and it is my disagreement with the views of others that motivates me to write this philosophical examination of close relationships. In the following text, I will cover at least these topics:
- What is friendship?
- Characteristics vs. causes vs. effects
Let’s get started. Visit page 2 to continue reading. EDIT: paging removed.
You’re reading an old post from more than two years ago. The views expressed in this blog post may or may not correspond to my present perspectives on life.
What is friendship?
I am neither seeking nor providing the absolute definition of friendship. Instead, I am offering my own, open definition. Friendship is a close relationship between persons.
Now, we could leave it at that, but of course the answer is far more complex. Friendship involves a number of people who (at least partially) trust each other, who are comfortable with each other, and who act in the collective interests or with the interests of the other(s) in mind.
Let’s pause there. What I have described so far is not friendship, but details of friendship and friends. But does it truly matter whether I can provide a clear-cut definition of friendship? My purpose here is to analyze friendships, not define them.
Yet for the purposes of my analyses, let us understand that I refer, not to the general persons that are on friendly terms, but to one’s closest and most dependable friends. I talk not of the people to whom I am merely nice, but those I trust with my private affairs and those to whom I feel an emotional connection.
“Every decent person has quite an accumulation of them.” I say this, but it is not true. Every decent person — one who has not experienced any tragedy to discourage him from socializing — has only a small number of truly trustworthy, dependable friends. These are the friends who can’t be let go; there are connections too deep to be severed easily.
On page 3 Next, I discuss motivations.
I am quite certain that you and I could not live without love and acceptance. Friends offer these two ‘breaths of life’. I guess I am arguing that friendship is a basic need.
I wrote previously that having friends, and friends, are bad. (Actually, I was harsher than that.) I argued that friendship leads to a loss of individualism (a matter that I’ll address later in this analysis). However, we need to consider that this may be the very reason that friendships exist.
Many children and young adults are seeking an identity… trying to figure out who they are. Friends help shape a person’s identity, and friendships provide acceptance for such an identity. Everybody wants to be a somebody. This is one reason, one motivation, for people to form friendships.
Another is the need for a ‘receptacle’. No one can live an entire sane life without venting one’s emotions, thoughts, and needs. Friends offer a shoulder on which to lean.
In times of happiness, success, and well-being, every normal person wants to share those feelings. Everybody (at least, every sane person) likes to share those feelings because of something akin to the ‘network effect’ — the more people that are happy, the more happiness there is for everyone. Thus, in times of joy, people turn to those that will listen to them: their friends.
In times of sorrow, or disappointment, or bitterness, friends offer the support that a person needs to keep going. The great friends will do whatever possible to aid the person in need, because that is in the nature of friendship. They offer the understanding and love to keep someone in synch with the world, and in a sane state of mind.
And what about all those other times when a guy just wants to talk to someone? Well, he has the option of being cruel and mean in irritating someone, and he has the option of having a casual, friendly conversation with a friend. His friends are there for him. Friends are there for us.
Let me use a little example from an acquaintance, who offered an interesting illustration. When I’m bored and there is little to do, and my friends are available to talk (or logged on to Windows Live Messenger), what do I (a good and nice person) do? I talk to my friends.
And what if I had some burning secrets to reveal, to discuss? I don’t think, “let’s tell N.P., a person with whom I’m polite and nice”, because he isn’t the person I value as a close friend. Instead, I think, “let’s talk to K.P.,” — or indeed another friend — “a person who is kind and a close friend”, because I generally feel comfortable talking to people in this category, because I treat friends differently (and they treat me differently) than acquaintances or strangers. Friends are there for a reason, and I’m far more comfortable with them than anyone else.
On page 4 Next, I discuss influences.
‘Influences’ has been a major theme in my recent articles. My analyses have discussed the types of influences that shape one’s behaviour, the possibilities involving engineered influences, and then the unconscious influences of friends on other friends. I will now contradict my previous examination (Why Friends Suck) to say that the influences of friends are positive — almost without exception. (This is yet another controversial viewpoint, simply due to its extremism.)
Before I even begin to discuss why they are positive, I will refute the claim that bad friends are bad influences on kids, leading to sins like gang crime / organized crime, narcotics use, sexual misconduct, and so on. To refute such a claim, I must reference my previous analysis of human behaviour and the variables that determine it, in which I noted that the three types of influences — environmental, intrapersonal, and interpersonal — can be combined to engineer a certain result. By extension, I was also noting that no single type of influence can completely change a person. In other words, bad friends cannot be the only cause of bad behaviour; the kid must have an intrapersonal tendency to such behaviour, emotional problems, other personal issues, or may live/learn in a negative environment. Although ‘gangster’ friends would have an impact, they are not the bad influences. In reality, it could depend more on intrapersonal or environmental influences, or a careful balance of the three types.
Ah, but I digress, gentlemen… the issue here is the positive influences of friends. (Generally, we will proceed on the assumption that those who read this article are wise enough to have good friends.) By now I have shown that friends are at least a factor that influences the shaping of a person’s personality. Why is that good? Let’s look at it this way. Every person’s life will no doubt involve relations with other people. In order for strangers to ‘connect’ — to feel comfortable in the presence of others — there has to be common ground. If you (or I) are an unordinary character with strange behaviour, you will benefit from having good friends that make you more ‘normal’, because normalcy will improve your chances of succeeding in the future — as a student or teacher, employee or employer. Yet this is only one reason.
Have we yet considered the possibility that a more common personality will lead to a more emotionally-fulfilling life? This is what I see: a personality that others shape is usually a personality that others can accept, and the more that others accept you (or the more people that accept you), the better (or more numerous) your associations will be. As I’ve described in the Motivations section, close associations have benefits. Good friendships make good friends make happy people.
Basically, the crux of my argument is this: ‘normal’ is good. If you feel that I haven’t sufficiently proven that, just leave a comment and move on. I believe that my arguments clearly show how friends lead to common, normal interests/values and that those normal interests/values help a person reach out to a larger population of people (that is, those who are also ‘normal’).
On the next page Next, I will distinguish between causes and effects of friendships.
Characteristics vs. causes vs. effects
What do I mean by this? Well, I wanted to make the point that the characteristics of friendship aren’t always easy to distinguish from the causes and the effects of friendships. In the cases above, we have items that appear in more than one column.
Let’s start with the first, which matches with the last. M.W. says that a friendship has to involve similar interests, because otherwise there is no social reward. He says that, for instance, two people who both love football are more likely to get along that two people that have strong, different favourite sports. (It’s a good point; what would friends do if they disagreed all the time?) However, I see this as a reversal of the causal relationship. I argue that friends lead to similar interests and matching personalities, not the other way around.
- I have always believed that friendships based upon and depending upon shared interests are unstable and temporary. Influences are always changing us; what happens when, a few months down the road, you just don’t share those same interests anymore?
- I have already proven that friends have an influence on one another. Is it not probably that the similar interests are products of that influence? I believe that good, strong friendships (and many of them do involve similar interests) really lead to the persons gravitating toward commonness as a result of that bonding, and that both sides lose a little of their own personality to incorporate elements of the other’s; in short, that the friends are creating a shared personality, not deriving friendship from an existing shared personality. If this conjecture is true, then it will also explain the purpose of the subtle influences of friends, the reality that complete strangers or completely different people can still become friends, and why so many friends are so similar.
My second conjecture is the more significant. It shows that A and Z, people with different interests, preferences, and varying values, can indeed become friends, as in reality. All that it takes is a small bit of common ground, whether it’s as insignificant as physical contact (co-workers or classmates), or something personal such as a mutual friend, or something as significant as parallel academic achievement. (I have many personal examples of friendships that started off meeting only a few of these criteria.) As that common ground is discovered and expanded, these acquaintances could ‘click’, leading to further endearing relations, or could completely not ‘click’, resulting in a strictly impersonal relationship. Then, if it does ‘click’, then over time both A and Z will be more comfortable making their interests and values known. Given sufficient rapport, there is bound to be a considerable deal of ‘rubbing off’ on each other, and that is how we arrive at A and Z, no longer dissimilar but now matching.
My conclusion follows next on the next page.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a miraculous wonder in everyday life. Indeed, it is so common that most of us take it for granted, and fail to understand it. Friendship is normal, as I have shown, because it is in human nature to form such bonds. We all have a need for these relationships, and each and every one of us benefits from this sort of trusting bond.
I have argued — hopefully, successfully — that though friendship is common, close friendships are few. I have argued that friends are important in times of joy and in times of sorrow. I have argued that the influences of friends are a positive, not a negative effect (in contrast to previous writings), and I have also distinguished between friendships based on shared interests and shared interests formed out of friendships.
What can we see? I see place for improvement. We could all be friends… just not all close friends. ###
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