Do we value friendship in the manner it deserves, do we truly comprehend the greatness that is the freedom we have in generating connection with other people in this world in such a global way? When we stand barefoot in trepidation of the oncoming tide of a great night-darkened ocean or find ourselves lost in an endless forest of aged trees caught in the still point, we are often hit with the realisation of the smallness of life and the urgency of crafting a fully lived life. It is a great thing to reflect on these things that we attach such worth to, that push us to live, to conduct a ‘happiness stock take’. The joy bringers of life are the topics I shall return to writing with as, anyone who knows me can attest to, the personhood states of joy and happiness occupy my thoughts regularly. We live in a golden age of enlightenment, a generation of people with social, global and personal growth and development at the cornerstone of our daily lives, and I believe in the relevance of examining these things and reflecting on how they can be re-imagined to bring ourselves to a stronger position of understanding and awareness. I shall begin with a look at, in my opinion, one of the best parts of being human-friendship with others. Success is determined by the levels to which we can achieve and the amount we can amass but maybe the value system of society should consider an alternative definition of success, one that is built on the living in the intangible happiness.
The problem with friendship is as a subjective area we don’t know how to measure it’s value in relation to other countable offerings. What are the properties of a sustainable, enriching and affirming friendship and what level of importance do we place on making friends as opposed to say achieving a college degree? Pursuing friendship is an act we engage in from childhood, from the first time we knock confidently on our neighbour’s door dying for our friend to be allowed out to play to the tentative suggestion of developing secret handshakes and building forts with our grownup friends. Friends allow us to express our ridiculous nature, amplify it and as you get older this becomes infinitely more precious in the context of the growing awareness of the negative aspects of the world. For me wasting time with friends doing nothing is not wasting time at all because you get to be your total idiotic self and laugh so hard you nearly pee and that is acceptance, a total mental, spiritual and physical being with someone that is like cracking your neck, necessary and sort of weird, socially disturbing at times and satisfying.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another…what! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” CS Lewis. Is friendship sparked at the introduction when you lock eyes, exchange a knowing look and from there it has been unspokenly agreed upon that you are now in cahoots? Or when you have spent enough accepted time with a person that warrants a level of comfort where one person can do very human, gross bodily things around the other and it is a cause for laughter rather than disgust? I am talking about simple happenings, those moments when awkward noisy/smelly habits become an endearing quality and a cause for much laughter and teasing. The term friendship can be taken as loosely or as deeply as the nature of your own particular character demands, different levels of relating and self-expression desire different levels of connection with a person to term them a friend. When you truly desire lifelong friendship you begin an evolving dance of interactions and purposes and the glue that holds it all will be the reaching of a place where self-disclosure is brought to the table. DOO DOO DOO it’s the magical potion of vulnerability and reciprocity- the act of slowly giving out key personal information and having likewise returned in order to learn more intimately the nature of the other’s character and open yourself up to accepting them and being accepted. There is a mutual give and take and this is the greatest risk one can enact with another, it will at times leave you bewildered and possibly betrayed but without attempting intimacy to bind you then all you are left with is multitudes of half formed surface aquaintance-ships. Personally I get paralysed with fear when I consider trying to make friends at say a party of people I only peripherally know. It’s usually a collection of impressive, beautiful funny aliens and I have to make a choice to swallow the panic I feel, blunder in enacting some kind of alternative dance move and establish a connection by being myself and being interested in learning all the beautiful curiosities that make them them.
The act of friendship is a process of reciprocal goodwill, an undertaking of relating to and wanting what is good for the sake of another. This does not mean that the loss of self-care is necessary for a true friendship, loving yourself comes first before being able to love others but it is an active process that allows for the building up a person to be the best they can be and helping them overcome problems when they arise in their character and life. Having another person there to ‘try’ and ‘test’ different quirks and forms of self-expression with will lead to a more fulfilled representation of what it is to be in the world and a firmer solid worked out identity basis. A friend should be unafraid to challenge you, should care for you and desire to see your happiness achieved, can enter into judgement with you not from a critical place but simply a desire to encourage, build and grow with you living in togetherness.
So as with everything in life there are barriers. I firmly believe a root of the vast majority of personal issues comes from a soul level desire to be fully known by others yet it is matched by deep fear of being fully known because extending trust is a risky business. From this springs the fears that prohibit true friendship: fear of rejection, commitment, vulnerability. It’s a dizzying cliff edge embarking in authentic friendship with others and letting them in not only on the fun, kooky parts but also the struggles, the pains and the insecurities. Being select about whom you step onto the vulnerability path with is essential but locking your heart away from ever trusting anyone out of fear or shame will only give power to the negative self-doubts held about personal worth.
Loneliness is the enemy of the happy self. I do not mean an active chosen solitude or being an introvert but rather alienation, lack of connection. It occurs when there is a visible or felt difference between what level of interpersonal connection and affection one desires and one actually gets. An edge of fear of rejection springs awake when opening your heart to others is considered. Overcoming that anxiety comes the more you realise the worth of yourself being under the power of others opinion is imagined and you can have happiness in your alone self without feeling lonely. At some point you need to make a choice to remain forever bound by the fear of ‘what if?’ or trust in faith that you can accept a truth about who you are and live freely in that regardless of how many people approve of you. If they do not love us as much as we want are we going to choose to accept that we are not worthy, does that affirm our shame, that we are at our core unlovable? In the past I chose the route of self-sabotage, pushing people away because I assumed I was a burden to them, intolerable and deserved my loneliness. Now I choose differently I choose to align my worth with what I have learned from Jesus’ teachings and I try to live fully with people. That because of His death I no longer have to strive, berate and shame myself into a good character, Jesus finds my weirdness endearing and my character finds itself seeking to love others, including myself, like He loves. I, in accepting this truth of His sacrifice solely making me good, am good, although flawed. At the end of the day if people have negative opinions of my weirdness I have a freedom choice I am no longer enslaved to finding my truth of self in other people’s opinions.
One of my personal favourite things in the world is potential. I love the unspoken moment when nothing has been decided but all can be and you are sitting on the brink of a chaotic maelstrom of possibilities and stretching out before you is numerous timelines all directly influenced by what will happen. It’s a moment of electricity and boundaryless outcome and the best occurrence of these is within human relationship. That acute feeling of there being opportunity for madness to occur and within this space of existing potential between people lies a transformative power of epic proportions that can significantly alter and improve the life and personhood of someone. For groups of men and women friendships can look different. Looking at men and their changing social role and the impact this has had will give an indicator of the remarkable power of friendship. The understanding of traditional male relationships are changing in a positive manner as the concept of masculinity and an awareness of the necessity of male sharing becomes tantamount to healthful living. Men are pushing to take the friendship level past the surface stereotype to engender togetherness, encourage communication, challenge and emotional vulnerability, traditionally a weakness in ‘being a man’ but that is an identity armour society has long trapped them in. The epitome looked for is the bromance, a blend of brotherhood and romance in a way that takes the level of friendship to a more intimate and supportive level of personal betterment. A prohibition of vulnerability and intimacy, which was for so long on a mass social scale perceived as inherently feminine traits, limited the levels to which a bromance could reach and inhibited the positive affect male friendships could have. Empowering people to understand the physical and mental transformative benefits friendship can have is key.
Let us look at the Hierarchy of Needs, a pyramid shaped system of fulfilment designed to meet all of human need in the correct order to achieve self-actualisation. If we are honest with ourselves about what is the most empowering, motivating factors in life they would be love and acceptance. Love takes many forms, romantic, familial, spiritual and friendship but due to organisational powers, mass media and the global consciousness that create and cultivate culture our needs can be twisted, characterised by unattainable standards that drive us all to madness in seeking. An unrealistic, fantasised, romantic relationship expectation forming the base of our identity. I dearly want to be loved and love someone and a lot of the time that is a stronger desire than generating friendships. It is the way we are, we have a need inside that demands to be felt. That does not mean the value we place on this need, with the intellectual capacity we have for making a choice that is not dictated by feeling alone, should be greater than the value we place on experiencing friendships. So while there is a good enough valuing of activities that lend to successful societal functioning these are often underwritten and undervalued in the rosy cheeked, heartwarming glow of the romantic love or sexual desire tier. We have been conditioned to some extent to see the mantra of “I am desirable, I am pursued” as the optimum way to know your identity is powerful and acceptable. Yet romantic or sexual affirmation is not the foundational aspect to relationship, friendship is and if you cut friendships because you are too caught up in a romantic bubble or you compromise on having friendship with your chosen partner because an easy physical satisfaction is so irresistible and more readily available then you are losing the backbone to long standing person-to-person interconnectedness. If the building of relationship is not upon an assured ability to be friends with one another and an equality of intellectual, spiritual and physical connections the potential of the relationship will be impeded particularly if it’s entered into as a means to fix personal insecurities or make one feel good about ones self. When the woo and frivolity of the honeymoon period dies down, if a natural friendship status quo has not been established the next part of relationship will be extremely tough, possibly boring and not emotionally fulfilling. You see friendship is a double agent, it should compliment, it should not compete. What I am trying to establish is that we need to re-prioritise and maybe remind ourselves of those friendships we have neglected in the face of other pursuits. The two forms of connectedness should not be mutually exclusive, friendship will keep you together when the realisation of the choice to love becomes a present thing.
The entirety of our existence is one long series of exposures to institutions and our ability to interpret the world around us through powerful learned filters and the role of other people should be an institution that is highly valued and hold a bigger position in our lives than we afford it in light of amassing material comforts or reputation. I love the opportunity to sit and be in the presence of people who give me a sense of peace to be with. It is fascinating to watch the dawn of realisations, the dancing of creative responding and ease playing across their face and I, a part of and partner in this galaxy of friendship, a place where inhibitions cease and excitement can spur passionate debate and reminiscing, shared stories and energies and self analysis. I want to turn to someone, look upon them and see how together we move on tracks of never-ending light. Being a good friend and having good friends is to me a worthy thing to value in life, but loving others and knowing them comes only after loving and knowing ourselves. It is a delightful opportunity to hand happiness to others to give them moments where they forget the inner monologue of self-doubt that can assail them and allow them to do the same. The ability to derive joy from our experiences and connections is unique and is an uncountable value in human life. Let us not spend our lives mired in measuring the mundane, instead let’s look to the transformational aspects of living and the enriching people we are surrounded by. That joyful purpose of mattering to others and them mattering to you, it is a good thing to look for in life.