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The Nature Of Friendship

March 16, 2008

I’ve tried for several years to find an adequate conception of what a “friend” is, and how to define it. I think I’ve finally found a definition which captures what a friend truly is.

I suppose we’ll start with some of my older conceptions of friendship. One of my earliest conceptions of a friend was someone you can rely upon when in need.

I don’t think this idea is completely amiss, but I have people whom I consider friends and I do not rely upon them for much of anything I consider important. Also, this idea seems to presuppose that you’re in need, and that you can’t have friends unless you’re in need of something from them. I don’t particularly find this definition satisfactory.

My next conception of a friend was one of understanding one another. This idea in me was originally rooted in a Bible verse I read a long while back when Jesus said something to the effect that he no longer considered his followers servants, but friends, and because he was their friend, he would make known to them the purpose of why he was doing the things he was doing. I began to think that was getting closer to what I considered a friend.

That conception certainly explained a lot of the friendship dynamic. Oftentimes when you’re around strangers you have to keep your guard up, and put on a big act, and not show your true self. You have to hold your true opinions back, and keep information from people. It’s a well known fact that if people know too much about you, and the people who know this information are not mature, giving out the information is detrimental. But it seems that close friends typically have deep knowledge of one another, and most of the time, understand one another. They accept one another, and understand each other’s faults, and typically tolerate them, to a large degree anyways.

But this definition is also unsatisfactory. I’ve seen groups of younger friends together, spending time together. I would spend a small amount of time in their company. They would sometimes be having conversations explaining their friend to me. “Oh, just ignore that. He says things like that. It’s just the way he is.” With my knowledge in psychology, oftentimes I’d understand the reasons for the person’s behavior more-so than the person’s best friend.

If we were to define friendship by knowledge of why the person does what they do, then I would be considered a better friend to this person than the person’s best friend. That obviously isn’t the case. But once again, there is a degree of truth to this conception of a friend as well.

How about common interests? This seems to also have something to do with it. Most friends spend time together doing things they both mutually enjoy. It’s rare to find best friends who aren’t very similar in what they enjoy and want out of life.

But this is also unsatisfactory. There are people in the world who are near identical, and don’t know one another. They may be near identical in common interests and personality, but they are not friends in the least. They’ve never even met. If all it took was common interests to make two people best friends, I’d probably be best friends with all sorts of people around the world, whom I don’t even know.

I’ve also met people who have a lot in common, yet hate one another. Also, in many friendships you find people who are near opposite. Some relationships are this way. Maybe the woman is outgoing and likes to get out, while the man is uptight and likes to stay home. The woman was attracted to the man’s security and stability, while the man was attracted to the girl’s spark and joy of life. The two seem to balance each other out and things work out.

Anyways, we see there’s something more than just common interests to friendship.

I never could figure this issue out, for the longest time. Then, as I was sitting in the kitchen, eating a bowl of shredded wheat, and thinking of a possible plot outline for a fictional story I’ve been considering writing, it hit me out of nowhere.

As for the story, it is a story of how to lead people. A story of how things are not normally how you think they were when you were little, and oftentimes things need to be done to change the world, and those changes are going to demand sacrifice. It’s a story of the inner struggles of letting go of your past, and the proper mental steps to building a new life. It is a story of a young man, who is strong-willed, determined, and brave, but initially lacking intelligence, and grows to learn how to lead a group of people.

In this story, a young man has become ruler of a tribe of misfits who had to flee from their native land because they were invaded by a powerful force. People initially follow and admire him because he was a powerful warrior who saved them from the powerful force, but he has no idea how to lead them into the new life they need. Insurrections, and other quarrels continually take place. It’s a story of what life is like for a small handful of leaders, who try to make a difference in the world, and how to keep a group of people together in one mind, especially when they all need to be working together to make something happen.

The young man had to accomodate a ship, and they’ve sailed to a completely foreign land. They’ve just landed there, have no way of getting work, and have no food. As naturally would happen, a young leader would have no idea what to do, and the people are mad that he’s taking too long to come to a decision, as they’ll all soon starve. On top of these dire conditions, the young warrior has little to no desire to rule the misfits, as he only wanted to free them. He loves a woman back home, and during the ship ride he begins to wonder what he’s gotten himself into. The woman he loves was the daughter of the powerful kingdom’s king, and the young warrior was the new rising star, and everyone was praising him. In fact, the first portion of the book is going to be building up this awesome life he’s living, painting pictures of his romantic excursions with the girl, and the promises he makes to her. We hear how his parents are all proud of him, how the people adore him, and all the honor bestowed upon him. We hear how he’s first in his class at the military academy, and so forth. During the ship ride the young warrior begins to get to know the misfits on a personal level. When he saved them from destruction, he had an abstract conception of them as “opressed peoples”, and he was the honorable man saving them. Then he learns he’s thrown his life away for are a group of losers, who lack every form of discipline and excellence. They have very little morals and values, and are brawling one another on the ship in drunken frenzies. The warrior gasps. There’s no way wants to stay with these misfits. He’s only known them for a short matter of weeks and he can already tell they weren’t even worth saving, but he can’t just leave them there. They all just sort of cling to him. They’re like troubled children with a responsible parent, who takes care of them out of duty, but whose life they make miserable. Anyways, he struggles within himself to find motivation to help these unfortunate misfits who he wonders if they’d be better of just dying.

During the battle in which he saves them, in almost hysterical confusion, his convictions toward doing what’s right wins him over, at least temporarily, and he charges to save the misfits, and leads them to safety. During the ship-ride the young warrior begins to lose his mind. What had he done? He had no knowledge on how to rule a group of people. Also, what about the “I’ll be yours forever” promises he made to the girl back home? It all happened so fast, he had completely forgotten about his promises to her. Also, he has no special affection for this group, and in fact, everyone he loved is back home, but now, after defying his kingdom, he now has nothing but these misfits. He’d be killed if he went back, and he was seperated from the woman he loved by unsurmountable forces in which he has no knowledge of how he could possibly overcome. Also, after what he did, would she even take him back? Family life would be awful. He’d have to steal her away too, making her give up her everything as well. So we see that he’s mentally hysterical, and on top of that, he must now lead a group of already rebellious people into a new life.

Anyways, a wise old man comes along with him, and helps him rule the people, and is always giving wise advice about what to do. He was the ex-counselor for the powerful kingdom, but never agreed with their views, and took compassion on them all. A short while after leaving the ship and landing on foreign soil, the wise counselor has to travel for a time to help give counsel to another kingdom, and leaves the young warrior with one of his young apprentices. As the wise old man was leaving the young ruler ran to him and said, “This is a troubling time! There’s insurrection boiling! You’re the most qualified to give me counsel on what to do. Please stay, I beg you. I do not know what to do!” As the young new ruler falls to his knees pleading for him to stay, the old man turns and says, “Always remember this, strong bonds of friendship exist between those who grow together.” Then the wise old man leaves.

It then hit me and I said, “YES!” I sprung from the kitchen table in some sort of euphoria. I thought, “Finally! I’ve figured out the mystery of friendship.”

It’s so strange how the mind works. How I can come to a quote which perfectly embodies friendship, yet be thinking of something else entirely, not knowing the answer beforehand, and it all fuse together with an answer is an amazing thing. But this is how these sorts of things work. Even if you’re not consciously thinking about something, if you post a question to your mind, it gets stored in the unconscious mind, which is always chugging on an answer. All new incoming mental content is being sifted and sorted, and your mind is looking for an answer. When it puts together new material and finds the answer, some sort of trigger fires off and says, “Answer found.” For some reason, Greg and I both get these revelations in the shower. I also get them during my walks outdoors, and when I’m eating breakfast. Oftentimes the answer comes out of nowhere. Just sitting there, watching the weather channel, seeing how cold it will be on your walk, and then the thought comes to you. I always have a pad of paper near me, and write these things down. It’s so easy to lose insights like these.

As for the story, the overall idea behind this is that the old wise man leaves the young apprentice with the young new ruler and they both grow together and become very close friends. The young apprentice has head knowledge, but doesn’t always know what the quotes and “knowledge” he has really means. The young warrior has the determination and zeal, but doesn’t know what to do. A series of events like this happen and a small “board of directors” so to speak grows, and they rule the small-sized group of misfits, taking a group of losers, and leading them into becoming respectable people. Of course, the old wise man shows up here and there. He’s not gone, but he’s the one who magically seems to show up when things are too hard for the young rulers to handle. I’m debating on how far the story goes, and whether or not eventually these two end up ruling a large empire or not. I’ll probably just end it by showing a large amount of progress and development.

You can easily see all three earlier conceptions of friendship embodied in this one concept of growing together. You can’t grow with someone unless you both have similar desires and common interests. If you can’t trust your friend, eventually as the empire grows (the ‘domain’ of whatever thing you’re doing with the friend) you’ll find someone else to take their place. Also, naturally if you grow together, you’ll also understand why the person is the way they are, because most likely, you’ll begin to both share the same views toward things.

The young warrior and the young counselor will become friends without even trying to do so. The longer they work together, the closer they will become and the more they will lean on each other. Whether or not the old man becomes a “friend” or not depends on how he views the entire affair. The young rulers will certainly have affection for the old man, when he saves them from distress, but unless the wise man makes it a project of his own to teach the young rulers, and actually desire their success, he will simply be a dispassionate wise man. So whether the old wise man develops personal affections for the young rulers depends on how he views the situation. If the old man is concerned more with reaching a higher level, than with teaching those beneath him, he will probably view them more so as a hobby. When being told of the young rulers success he’d probably be one to have a mild grin and say, “That’s good to hear.” If his project was for their success however, he would secretly be filled with great joy inside. He would brag on them to his friends, visit them often, etc. But I don’t think the wise man’s affections for the young rulers could ever be as strong as those of when the old wise man was himself a counselor to a young ruler. Growing together is the strongest bond of friendship. Teaching is probably second.

Thinking this over now, the whole idea of my own “mass leveling up” phase, when due to my own insecurities, I tried to become better and better so I could finally get the girl is the wrong way pursuing all of it. It’d been better to get the girl earlier on, and grow together with her. That’d be where our strength would lie. If you get too far ahead, you have to instead take the route of teacher, to bring the person lagging behind to your level, but that’s not going to be as fulfilling. Also, if you both wait to be at a high level before entering the relationship, you’ll have missed out on your opportunity to grow together.

This dynamic of growing together seems to explain most all of what friendship is. I respect my parents most because I grew due to their instruction and help. That’s certainly a bond of friendship. People always have undying affection for those with whom they’ve “been through the fire” with. People who were with them in the hard times.

There are those who give hand-outs and save someone in distress, but that’s not really friendship in my opinion. That’s more so gratitude and altruism.

I’ve seen people with common interests hanging out together, and even some who say they’re close friends, but if they don’t have previous ties like this in their pasts, where some common pursuit has cemented them together, the friendship can deteriorate and disappear just as fast as it came into existence. But those who have grown together tend to always stay in touch, even if later both go their seperate ways. This has certainly been my experience.

You can never grow together unless you first trust the other person to be involved with you in the common pursuit. Also, the more important the common goal was to both of the people, the more solid the bond will be.

So in conclusion, it seems friendship is growing together in areas which are important to both of the people involved. The more important the goals, the more powerful the friendship will be.

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