Thursday, May 3, 2012

Friendship Defined



Friendship Defined

I have not had time for several weeks to write a blog, and the next chapter in C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves” is about friendship.  So it would seem providential that this is the very topic I wanted to write an essay on, and I’ll post an excerpt from “The Four Loves” later this week.

In studying Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethic, the topic of friendship under the educated gaze of the great philosopher held a high place in his teaching of what constituted the virtuous life, or a life of excellence.   In Aristotle opinion, living the good life was difficult, and much more than his oft quoted “golden mean.”  In order to gain the virtuous life, use our rational minds, and acquire wisdom needed the help of friends.

But what kind of friend should one cultivate? 

If one wants to become a man or woman of practical wisdom, what kind of friend should one chose?
According to Aristotle, there are three types of friends: 1. Utility 2. Pleasure and finally, 3. Friendship for friendships sake.

Let me explain each.

First of all, the friendship of utility, a friendship one enters into to gain some good from the friendship itself. Examples would be a business partnership, or membership of a business club, political organization, or trade union.  These are networking friendships or friendships with a certain goal in mind; useful to boost your career, and those of your comrades in the club.

Second is a friendship for pleasure, a friendship of persons who have like interests, usually people who you like to “hang” with, or the “drinking buddy,” the people who you have fun with.  This can also be the pleasurable relationship of the new romantic relationship: two people wrapped up in the emotions of “falling in love.”  But as one matures, you hopefully learn that emotions like pleasure, cannot maintain a relationship for long.  This could also be what was always termed the “fair weather” friend.

Notice something important about the first two examples of friendship: the people entering into these relationships are basing the friendship on what would be considered “accidental” properties of the persons in the relationship; another words, the friendship is coincidental to the relationship. Accidental properties are my hair color, eye color or my height…I am a human being, it is not necessary to my humanity that I have blond hair.  So for the friendships based on utility and pleasure are based on quality secondary to friendship itself, so the persons in these types of friendships are in them first of all for an instrumental reason, for something one receives as a result of the friendship. 

Of course, human beings are social animals.   Remember God said of “the man” (Adam) “It is not good that he is alone.” We know that the condition of being alone is contrary to our very nature, and not conducive to human flourishing. In this light, we all may have many friends of the utilitarian and pleasurable type, but what about the last?

Friendship for the sake of friendship, or as Aristotle wrote “…the friendship based on virtue and on the character of our friends themselves…” (1171a 19-20) This is the highest form of friendship, not based on accidental or coincidental properties (although those would go along with this) but a friendship of equals, dedicated to the other friend attaining to happiness, excellence, and virtue.  Friendship for friendship’s sake, or friendship qua friendship, which comes around seldom, for not many persons are willing to “do the work” required to maintain this type of friendship.

As I imagine it, this is the friendship idealized in the best of marriages, or the friend who will tell you when you are “drifting left of center” in your behavior, can get angry with you and “not sin.”  This would be the best of friendships, someone who wanted to see you live a life of excellence as much as you wished the same of them.  This is the friendship of hard work over time, willing to have the arguments, yet unwilling to give up on the relationship.  And if one or the other of the persons in this relationship is wounded through error or neglect, pride or arrogance (none of which are virtuous) true repentance is sought, and true forgiveness is given.

I would imagine that this could sometimes have a start as a mentor/mentee relationship that blossomed into a friendship of equals, or the business partnership which grew beyond utility and the walls of the business, or even from the pleasure seekers who grow beyond the fun and the beers.

I wonder how many of us are willing to take the lumps and heartache of having a friend who knew you well enough that instead of listening to you gripe about the same situation for the umpteenth time, cared enough about you to tell you to change the channel!  Would you be willing to let a person “vent” and then help them to process their anger because they are worth the effort.  And would you let them grow past you?  Would you trust them to still be your friend, or would you clutch them to yourself, fearful that they will leave you behind?

Would you want to see growth in your friend, or always see them as your own personal “side-kick”? We often speak of the “iron sharpening iron” relationships, but do you really want that? Could you tell your friend who has just fallen hard off that horse, “Get up and get back on: Now try again!” Or would you rather give them a hug and say “oh, poor thing, it’s ok to give up now” if that keeps that friend in a dependant relationship: satisfying to you, but no longer a friendship, but devolved into satisfying your personal utility. Aristotle wrote, “…the friendship of good men is good, being augmented by their companionship; and they are thought to become better too by their activities and by improving each other; for from each other they take the mould of the characteristics they approve…” (1172a10) so it would seem friendship requires the betterment of each friend.

Perhaps you can see the wisdom in Aristotle’s words, and in this ancient gold: what can we apply to our Christian walk?  What kind of relationship are you looking for in Jesus?  Is he merely utilitarian or pleasurable, or would you instead have the courage to grow up enough to be called his friend.
Didn’t he call his disciples his friends? Don’t we sing “What a friend we have in Jesus”?
Are you sure?

“…We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16

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