Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

What is a Friend?

April 28th, 2014 by G.


Friend of the JG Arakawa wishes that friendship were more understood and valued.

Here’s a taste:

Friendship is probably the least defended relation there is — I’ve encountered only one person arguing for it in the Christian perspective. It is an excellent article.

But no one knows quite what friendship is, let alone how to justify its existence.

Maybe it’s my American upbringing, but I’m bad at friendship. When I move on from a project or a time in life, I lose contact with and most interest in my friends. That’s true of my high school friends, my college friends, my mission friends, my South Bend friends, and my friends from the places I’ve worked before this. If we happen to re-meet, nervously, the friendship comes back to life like a pilot light touching off all the burners on a gas heater. But otherwise the friendship is dormant. I just don’t have much in the way of friendships; very few grown/married American men that I know do either. My closest friends are probably my dad and my brothers and my brothers-in-law (I like, love, and bump along pretty well with my mother, my sisters, and my sisters-in-law, but somehow the relationship seems different than friendship. I can’t explain how). Apart from those family friendships and my current work friendships, the closest friends I have may be you folks. But we haven’t met in the flesh or leaned over a fence together–we’ve never eaten together in our homes either–so our friendship is necessarily attenuated.

Worse, I don’t understand what friendship is. I have a vague notion that among men at least its mutual liking in the service of mutal goals, which is why so often it takes an institutional form and withers with the institution. Maybe friendship is mutual aid coupled with mutual liking, and the closer the friends the less strict the accounting is the mutuality of the aid? I just don’t know.

Which is shocking, because friendship is the earthly model of the relationship with Him that God intends. See John 15:15, or D&C 84:63, D&C 84:77 and 93:45. Friendship may be the natural end of a grown son to his father.

Likewise, part of Joseph Smith’s model of what would be so attractive about the eternities was the reunion with friends :see D&C 121:9 and D&C 130:2.

Comments (8)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: , , ,
April 28th, 2014 06:08:30

Ben Pratt
April 28, 2014

I have often suspected that I have an over-developed sense of what the Brazilians call “saudade.” As a child flying from Panama to our new home, I suddenly remembered that I had not properly said goodbye to my school chums. I cried, because I knew I would never see them again. So far, that prediction has been correct. (Though Vladimir or Crystal, if you see this, I hope you’re well.)

“Social media” allows a gossamer connection to old friends, but it’s generally less about deepening or rekindling friendships than it is about wisecracking and arguing on the internet with people one has met in meatspace. What is gone cannot be revived through these means, at least not for me.

Along the lines of the verses you mentioned, Adam, Bruce C. has shared marvelous nuggets from the oeuvre of Bill Arkle that suggest that the motive for God’s work and glory is to raise up peers — friends.

April 28, 2014

I have no gift for friendship. If I didn’t have a large and loving Mormon family, I suspect that I would be very lonely indeed.

Bruce Charlton
April 29, 2014

@G – I too, it seems, am bad at sustaining friendships – and without any convincing or valid excuse for it, since I haven’t moved around all that much. I have no active friends from schooldays – although that is partly due to have no connection now with the place I grew up. I have made some very good, close friends at medical school and work – for example, I have been ‘best man’ at weddings six times (once was for my brother, who was and remains my _best_ friend) but I have only really kept a friendship going with one of these; for which I am mostly to blame for just failing to stay in touch. Some previously close friends live quite near, but for lack of effort (or perhaps change with age) we just drifted apart.

April 30, 2014

I think my primary reason for provoking this discussion is that strengthening my existing friendships has been the primary obligation I’ve felt increasingly called to fulfil lately, and it’s something that I find myself having no idea how to go about doing — realizing how many of my friendships to date have been determined by a sort of autopilot at the mercy of external and irrelevant circumstance. I find myself tempted to almost invent societal conventions, though trying that never plays out quite the way I expect it to. (Stands to reason, of course….) That was the real intersection with the issue of whether men and women can be ‘just friends’ — obviously, with the way we treat our friendships conventionally, plus the way we let our random impulses govern us, instead of the other way around, this is almost impossible.

And my effort in this area is just going to need to keep growing; I’m not doing even a quarter of enough, which is where understanding what friendship is starts being helpful. But for someone else, considering the issue of friendship might barely merit a footnote.

I suppose one vague and hand-wavy way to think about friendship is that it is the formless nature of communion between humans, given form by our interactions. It could exist just as easily in a relatively structured context, as in the case of marriage, a teacher-student relationship, family relations, coworkers — though efforts to force friendship by multiplying formalities tend to merely produce empty formalities. It could also exist in a relatively unstructured context of people doing… whatever it is they do together, however silly it might be.

Bruce Charlton
April 30, 2014

I too am interested by friendship – for example my interest in The Inklings is partly about this.

Jack Lewis is an important resource on this topic, since he wrote on the subject and had many long term friendships which are well-documented in his letters and elsewhere.

And his friends were of different types – his brother, childhood and youth friendships (Arthur Greeves, Owen Barfield), academic friendships (Coghill, Tolkien), Christian/ writing friendships (Charles Williams) and so on. Of the above the Greeves, Barfield and Tolkien friendships are the subject of whole books – plus there are several about the Inklings.

What makes friendship hard nowadays is perhaps the lack of regular semi-formal situations to act as a framework – the clubs, meetings, dining together… that kind of thing.

Certainly when I had a year living an Inkling-like college life (in the castle at Durham University) it was very easy to make a lot of new friends – because even in 1988 it had retained many of the old fashioned formal structures.

e.g. A favourite group was of older English Literature academics who met weekly on (?) Friday lunchtimes to read and discuss an essay by Samuel Johnson.

Michael Towns
May 1, 2014

By any reasonable standard, I’m terrible at true friendship. I am also rather unsentimental. There are times when I have yearned for the ‘old style’ friendship and camaraderie that Lewis exemplified.

T. Greer
May 2, 2014

One of the root sources of this problem is, as Bruce Charlton suggests, the decline of the kind of things that brought friends together. One of the more poignant statistics in Bowling Alone is the % of people who owned decks of cards. In 1940 more homes (87%) used playing cards regularly than owned telephones (36%). These cards were played mostly with friends. Putnam calls them “the nation’s favorite form of social recreation”(p. 102). But by 1999 the average American played cards less than 8 times a year.

To have friends you must be able to do something with them. That is harder than it once was.

Bruce Charlton
September 5, 2014

“You must expect great things of yourself before you can do them. ~Michael Jordan”

But that isn’t true! Plenty of modest, humble people with a low opinion of themselves achieve great things.

You must *try* to do great things in order to do them; but that has nothing to do with *expecting* success.

[Ed. – the comment Dr. Charlton is responding was deleted on suspicion of spam, but we’re leaving his reply up because its fantastic.]

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