Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Philosophy of Friendship

(Facebook Friends v.s a Friend. Have we diluted our meaningful relationships to a jumble of weak electronically connected links?)

I thought it was time to discuss and contemplate on what exactly makes someone your friend and how we distinguish a friend from any other normal person.

One of the main reasons and inspirations for this discussion was simply because I thought people were using the term friend too loosely.

I'm sure there are a number of people you think of as your friend now and to try and get you to reassess your definition I'm going to ask one simple question.


"Do we have any responsibilities to our friends, any tasks which we should complete because of them, or any standards with which we have to meet for them?"

For instance:

  • 1) If a person is your friend do you have a responsibility to keep in touch with them, at least speaking for once a year, or is it o.k to still be friends after not haven spoken for more than a year? Would not speaking to them after so long affect your friendship?
  • 2) To what extent should we worry and be involved in our friends lives in order to help them? Is it acceptable to never want to do so and still be considered a friend?
  • 3) Would a friend ever miss another friends birthday party/event? Are you still friends if you don't, at the very least, come to their birthday party?
  • 4) Do you trust your friend more than the average person? Would betraying a friends trust affect their friendship with you?


So as you can see from the above questions, if any of those apply to you, you would agree that with friendship comes a certain level of responsibility.

So why mention this, why waste your time thinking about the subject?

Simply put, we consider people friends that really are acquaintances; a word I feel should be used more. These are people you may see very rarely at specific events and/or whom your only contact might consist of facebook or myspace.

These friends, are the worrisome ones I fear about, as you seem to have no sense of responsibility towards them. You hardly keep in touch, don't celebrate birthdays together, and rarely spend a passing thought worrying about their well-being.

Such responsibilities seem to be the backbone of friendships and our society has stripped the backbone in order to make friend an easier term to apply to more people.

That simply dilutes our experience with our friends, and dilutes our efforts into actually making meaningful relationships. Then we have an excuse to not treat our true friends properly. If 90% of your "friends" are treated a certain way then those actions will affect your true friends whom will get less calls from you and connections simply because that's the "norm" with friends.

Yet when you strip away the caring that exists between friends, the one molded by your help, worries, and effort, you find that you've lost meaningful relationships and replaced them with hollow ones.

Without such meaningful relationships, as a consequence, life looses a lot of it's glory, happiness, and luster.


Why we jump to use the word "friend" instead of "acquaintance"

So we can agree on what is happening but we should now focus on why it's happening.

Why are we diluting and weakening the term that is "friend"?

It may be because we don't want to offend people. Telling a person whom likes you that they are not your friend is seen as a slap in the face. Even if you don't mean it that way and even if it's true. If someone likes you and has been nice to you, in order to keep from upsetting them, the social norm has become that we should say they are our friends; not strangers.

People forget that another category already exists for these people that are not our friends. These people are known as acquaintances.
That word implies that we know them and there is some small bond in place, but possibly because it has a negative connotation, we try not to use it.

What we forget is, the moment we label someone a friend, a number of responsibilities attach themselves to that person and to us. That being the case, how can we then go attaching it to everyone, especially if we don't undertake the tasks needed to become and remain good friends?

The only answer to the problem is to use the word acquaintance more and have a healthy conversation as to why you used that word instead of friend, so as to not offend the other party.


Exceptional Friends - The Exception

These examples and discussions should beware of a certain area that I believe is an exception to the rule.

For friends that have spent and created strong bonds, even time apart would not destroy their strong friendship. Maybe because of forced relocation or for financial reasons they had to leave but if a strong connection was made, with years of effort forged into it, it is very possible for that friendship to stay active even with all the barriers.

These people should not be included in any of the above, as most of the people we're speaking about are people you just met or barely know.

If you know them deeply, and have a similar connection, your friendship is a different topic for a different time. You may never see them again and remember the bonds of friendship you built, reminiscing on the past as your friend is thousands of miles away.

They, as your once true friend, can and may certainly continue to stay your true friend.


Final piece of advice

The key here seems to be that we need to take care of our friends. We need to greatly increase that definition and use that term with the strength it deserves.

Lessen your pool of "friends" and then on those that remain, focus your attention. Keep up to date with them, call them regularly, worry about them, help them, and try to cover their faults as they cover yours.

Even if it may be only 1, 2, or 3 people, a true friendship based on responsibility, caring, an input of effort, and compassion, is much better than a dilute group of numerous people that you rarely see, rarely speak to, and truly do not care deeply about.

Apply the proper definition of friend to your life and in turn reap the benefits of life itself; more happiness, more satisfaction, and more joy in general.

Who knew a simple definition of a simple word could cause such mayhem if understood and applied incorrectly?

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