Let’s talk about friendship.
In a world that concerns itself predominantly with romantic love and parental love when it comes to feelings and affection, we often leave out the gift of filias, friendship love. We just don’t think a lot about it, correct? Until we find ourselves in that dark tunnel of loneliness wondering if anyone understands us or supports us or wants to help us.
The recent spate of teenage and young adult suicides is alarming. A local high school endured five suicides last year alone. Five! Five kids who thought no one cared. National statistics on youth suicides record that many, if not most, victims claim they have no friends. They were bullied. No one ‘liked’ them. These statistics now include the increasing growth of trans kids, gays, immigrants, kids of color.
Writers of young adult books are currently focusing on friendship in their work presenting the theme through the eyes of marginalized young people. I was impressed to hear an interview with a novelist whose book, Falling Girls, describes the competitive edge to cheerleading that fractures friendships among high school girls.
After dealing with young adults over many years, I have come to some conclusions about friendship starting among the young and advancing into middle and senior adulthood. If I were still teaching, I’d require a book to discuss titled, On Friendship (De Amicitia) by the illustrious statesman and rhetorician, Cicero. Yep, Marcus Tullius Cicero knew very well what friendship meant when he wrote the thin little book (always an advantage with young readers), in honor of his friendship with Titus Pomponius, better known as Atticus. Cicero says there are three kinds of friendship: utilitarian, pleasurable, self-identity. In other words, we have friends who provide help when we need it or fun and pleasure when we need a break or the third and highest form: a recognition of oneself in another person. Sometimes, all three are in one friendship. In the highest form of friendship, self-identity, we see the other person as having qualities we admire and interests we share in. Maybe such a person has gifts we would like to possess and by befriending them we can learn how to appropriate these interests into our own lives. Here are the conclusions I have drawn about the development of friendship:
The art of friendship needs to be taught by good parenting. Parents should observe their children not only as attracting a friend but in being a friend. Is there a child who needs a friend in your child’s class? How can you facilitate the making of a friendship with your child?
Friendship is not control over another person. Even adults get touchy sometimes when friends develop other friends or other interests. Sorry. Your friend is your friend because he or she is still growing, still becoming a better person which other friends will help create. If you tighten the cords of friendship too much it ceases to be friendship and becomes a dependency.
Friendship is loyalty. A good friend will be there for a friend. But it takes “good people to be good friends,” said Cicero. A good friend is courageous when it comes to defending the goodness of his or her friend. Can you be a loyal friend and not approve of your friend’s wrong actions? Yes, and that might be the hardest role of friendship. Loyalty means you go through everything with and for the friend. And you never give up on your friend. You tend the embers of friendship with loyal interest and care even though time will change you both. You are proud of your friend; you are proud of your friendship.
Frequently in the Gospels Jesus calls his followers, ‘friends’. Take a journey through the New Testament and see how often the word is used and in what context. But I believe the greatest story of friendship in the scriptures is that of David and Jonathan told in 1Samuel, starting in Chapter 18. Jonathan is King Saul’s son, a rightful heir to the throne. But Jonathan submits that David is to be the King and he thwarts his father’s jealousy of David and gives David his accouterments of royalty because “he loved him as himself.”
He saw his self-identity in David and had the courage to accept it.
Jonathan’s whole life is as mediator between his father Saul and his friend David. He accepts second place in the lineage of Israel’s royalty when he could have become King. He is a nearly perfect example of a good friend. Upon learning of Jonathan’s death, David weeps through these words, “I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother! Most dear have you been to me…” 2 Samuel 28. Reading the story of Jonathan and David will give you plenty of inspiration on friendship.
Ask yourself: Am I really a good friend to someone? Am I loyal without conditions? Or, do I try and control my friend out of my own fears?
What has jumped out at me in this reflection? What examples of friendship have I been privileged to experience?