A Friend is Another Self

Our title comes from Aristotle. It speaks of the close affinity that binds two individuals together
in a warm and affectionate relationship. This could of course be the relationship that one encounters in marriage, but by no means is it limited to that estate.

Aristotle is thinking of the kind of friendship where an individual is so closely related to a friend, that no falsity or dissimulation is thought necessary to preserve the relationship. Far from it, one may be open as though sharing with oneself. Patrick O’Brian places this distinction into the mouths of his literary characters as they occasionally refer to one another as their “particular friend”. This is a somewhat anachronistic figure of speech that describes not just a friendly acquaintance, but a true friend.

Now, let us assume that we have such a person in our life. How does one care for that relationship? Permit an illustration to get at this question. I have noticed that on Facebook, the category of “friends” is the general pot where persons we know are parked unless they are put into some other category such as family or the so-called V.I.P. list. Probably most of us have a good number of people in the friends category. In my own case, this is a repository for individuals who never seem to interact with me at all and I fear that I am equally guilty. 

So, are they really friends? Further, would Aristotle define them as friends? I think not to both questions. These friends may only be acquaintances. In addition, in some cases, these friends may want to keep up with what is going on in your life without investing any energy in a personal relationship. Facebook allows them to hear the news with no time or energy expended in the relationship. This is friendship based upon a few keystrokes. 

On the other hand, real friendship is work. It may be a labor of love, but it does require activity on our part. To care for a friendship requires that we extend ourselves on behalf of the friend. I believe that this is personal and intentional in nature. We have coffee. We go to lunch. We converse beyond the realm of passivity. I grant that we may legitimately offer examples of friendships that flourished over years and distance without the privilege of close personal interaction, but I posit that they are the exception. I have known some who affirm that they have friends that they had not spoken to or interacted with for years and when reconnected, they picked up as though they had never been apart. I must accept their affirmation, but my experience says that this is an exaggeration. People change and evolve and even as your high school sweetheart no longer is in the blush of youth, your friendship has not retained its same reality.

Therefore, returning to the question of how one cares for a friendship, I would say take care of your friends. Spend time with them. Talk to them. Go to lunch with them. You get the idea. Be a presence in their lives to the degree that is appropriate and allows the relationship to be nurtured. Even if this requires some long distance communication, for heaven’s sake, do not ignore them and then expect them to be “particular friends”. Take care of your friends.

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