beeswax, pine cones, redwood crosses

Where have all the Friendships Gone?

friendshipsIn this century, myriads of books have been written about diverse relationships, except friendship. We want to offer a few reflections on that most overlooked and to some, the important of relationships.

Does Friendship Change With The Times?

The ancients did not believe that “dog was man’s best friend.” They thought that human friendship was important for our development. Aristotle distinguished between three types of friendships: “friendship based on pleasure,” like guy’s getting together to watch the game and drink beer. Both of these friendships Aristotle called “qualified and superficial” because they are based on circumstances that could easily change. The third he said was based on “mutual admiration and a belief in each other’s goodness.” This type of friendship is permanent, but very rare today. After all, who feels good nowadays? Aristotle’s counterpart among the Romans was Cicero who described friendship as “the best gift, which the immortal gods have given us with the exception of wisdom.” Next came St. Francis de Sales. To the question put to him by one of his friends about their friendship, Francis responded eloquently, “Will your heart love mine and in all seasons? Oh my dear brother, true friendship never changes except into a more perfect union of spirit.”

Let’s face it! St Francis friendships of Holy Trinity are impossible to relate to for most of us. Yet his words are beautiful. “It seems to me” the saint wrote to Antoine Favre, “that our friendship is boundless and being so firmly planted in my heart, it as old as my heart itself.” (OEA, XIV, 3880) Was St. Francis del Sales a saint or simply a lunatic with a hobby?

The Modern Friendship

According to Eric Ulne, “Friendship…a traditional value if there ever was one has increasingly been eroded by the scourge of the go-go era; networking. Maybe you can blame it on the 80’s, when brute commerce seemed to muscle into every private sphere. In the 90’s, networking overtime was the name of the game, and the phrase “you can always use a friend,” unfortunately has been taken a bit too literally. (Networking derives from the ancient Anglo Saxon “netw” and “orking”, which translates to mean “not working”).

The 90’s question: Do I really need Friends?

We have become so time conscious that “dropping by” a friend’s house is almost a social sin. Wielding calendar and appointment book like a sword, we call a friend, weeks or months in advance. After the commitment to meet comes, the pressure to achieve sincere quality time during which to squeeze in all your news, confess, and give advice, act compassioned, and listen attentively. The emotional compression is more like the last 10 minutes of your psychotherapy session with Dr. Adolf. When done, you feel drained.

Not in Takilma?
Kerry pointed out that these entire “goings on” do not happen in rural areas and certainly not in Takilma. “It’s more of a city thing” he commented. Hey, Kerry, wake up and smell the Latte. Gathering “aura polish” at the Green Bridge swimming hole is networking in Takilma. Everyone concedes that it’s not what you know but who you know. And in some cases, (what you know about who you know). In a small town it becomes more noticeable when one hand slimes another. I don’t even work in town and I know is schmoozing with whom! In order to keep that special year to year contract job in the C.J. school system, you need to make “friends” with the people on the school board. You need to do lunch that becomes extended infoluncheons. You need to Rolodex and Filofax. This is what Aristotle called, “friendship of utility.” The 90’s friendships. A cartoon in Utne Reader exchanged Batman for Networkingman. Look, it’s an ingratiating Schmoozer! No..No. it’s networkingman! He’s capable of pro-jecting more sincerity than a used car salesman…It’s Networkingman…on his way soon to a party near you!”
Friend of Networker?

How can you tell if you’re talking to an “old friend” or being networked? At parties, are you spending most of your time in a corner being pumped and grilled for personal intimate information about yourself and others? Do you feel like you’ve been hit by a lightening rod? Do you feel shortness of breath? Do you tell yourself that next time you’re going to have to come equipped with an oxygen tank?

Yes Comrades – Friendships do end

Carol King’s song, “You’ve got a friend” promises “Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall, all you’ve got to do is call…and I’ll be there.” I never had a chance to take Carol up on her offer, but it’s entirely possible that we traveled in a different social cycle. O course we expect our friends to always be there. And we do expect friendship to last forever. Yet, friendships end and friends part company every day. Even the best friendships can end. The biggest threat to friendship is change.

Lillian Ruben in her book, Just Friends says, “Thus, generally it’s true that friends accept each other so long as both remain essentially the same as they were when they met or change in similar directions. If they change or grow in different or incompatible ways, the friendship will most likely be lost. In Takilma, many of us have changed and grown in different or incompatible ways over the past 30 years, and many friendships have been lost. Jeff, “I didn’t even know the friendship was over until I caught myself thinking of Alan as a former friend in the past tense rather than the present.” Kent, “Friends? I don’t have any friends,” Christina, “I used to think that I had a lot of friends here. I woke up one morning and realized..hey, wait a sec’, where did they all go? I’m really pissed off!”

Nicole, “I don’t have the time anymore to get together with friends. I rarely have the free head space to talk to anyone who calls during the week. I’m totally hooked on email and the internet. Internet relationships are the way of the future. I know that many folks believe that internet relationships are often dishonest and dangerous. But, I also believe that these negatives do not erase all the positives to be had with net relationships.

The internet allows the writer to check out a large range of potential friends, one email at a time. The net has a lot of positives for all generations. It works with everyone’s schedule. Email and chatting have a lot of potential benefits for youth. They learn to type fast and write their ideas. They connect with others based on something other than how cute they are. They can play act a whole range of personas safely. Friendships are hard to maintain and will likely get harder. People are often so burnt out with their activities of daily living that they are unable to focus on anyone outside of their own families. The internet may not promote ideal friendships, but it will keep friendships alive for many of us.

Christina Henning
UAW-Local 1981/AFL-CIO

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