Monday, September 8, 2014

The Meaning of Friendship

What is friendship? What does it mean to be a friend? How can I be a better friend?

These are some of the questions that went through my mind when I wrote the previous article, questions I didn't really answer. Hey, I didn't even begin to address them.

But they were there, and I've been thinking about them a lot lately.

Why? Well, in recent weeks I've had some interesting reminders of friendship. First of all, there is my very dear friend in Winnipeg with whom I've been writing another blog. (
(That is a blatant plug.) He's getting married in a few weeks, so I'm flying back there to be with him. We often speak of our friendship on the phone, but this is really making it hit home for me. Another instance is another friend who lives near me here in BC. He is self-confessed as being socially awkward, which he can be, I guess, but his heart is truly in the right place. I have come to treasure this man's friendship very deeply. This was further re-inforced when I received a postcard from him saying how hard it was for him to call anyone a friend, but that he used it for me. I was, and still am, very touched by this.

When thinking about friendship, and why I would consider anyone a friend, I am reminded of Hand of the Cause of God, William Sears, for whom I still think the tower in Chicago should be renamed after. He said that he was only friends with people to the extent that they showed forth the attributes of God. The more of these attributes that they showed, the closer he felt to them.

This is something I think about a lot: my friends and their virtues. Of course, it is a two-way thing. There are the attributes that they are showing, and then there are the attributes that I am seeing. No one, we should recall, is perfect. Everyone has flaws, especially me. And if we dwell on these flaws, focus only on what people are missing, we will never recognize what they have. We will never see their strengths. We are cautioned of this over and over in the Writings. Just look at those numerous Hidden Words about busying ourselves with the faults of others, or looking at their sins. Time and again the Master tells us to see His Father's face before others. "To look always at the good", says 'Abdu'l-Baha so pointedly, "and not at the bad.  If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, look at the ten and forget the one. And if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten." Not only is it a matter of my friend showing forth the virtues, but also a matter of me focusing my attention on them, noticing them, and treasuring them.

This, to me, answers that last question: How can I be a better friend? It also speaks to how I can be a better friend, for the very act of shifting my focus also makes me a better friend.

Another aspect of friendship is what we do together. There is that old thing about "friends don't let friends drink and drive", and you can even leave off the last two words, in my opinion, and it still holds true. Of course, I don't mean "be a fanatic", but just that I won't encourage my friends by going out drinking with them. The activities we choose to engage in together can also dictate how strong our friendship is. I will be far closer to someone I choose to serve humanity with than another person with whom I go to a movie with. And it doesn't mean that we don't go to movies together, but just that it is a part of the breadth of our friendship. One of my dearest friends is a co-teacher of children with me, and we strive to enjoy a movie once a month, but usually fail. (I mean, we fail to see one each month, not that we fail to enjoy the few we do get to see.)

All right. That last paragraph just reads weird to me. What I was trying to say is that we try to do things together that actually encourage each other in our spiritual development, joy being one of those virtues. When speaking of the loved ones of God, 'Abdu'l-Baha says that they should "...let their talk be confined to the secrets of friendship and peace."

Much better.

That seems to address the second question, "What does it mean to be a friend?" Quite simply, I think it means to help another develop their spiritual attributes.

But it still doesn't address my first question: What is friendship? In a clinical sense, we can say that friendship is a relationship between two people who care about each other.

That doesn't really cut it, does it?

We could talk about the joy we feel in the presence of our friend, how they can make even the most boring of routine things seem like fun. We can talk about how they remember our preferences, such as how I would rather chew aluminum foil than eat something with orange peel in it.

Aside - I have a very dear friend who was at a party with me a long time ago. We were all in a very joyous and playful mood, and in the middle of it all she came bouncing up to me and put a piece of chocolate in my mouth. I was very touched by her consideration. After all, giving your friend a piece of chocolate is a good thing, right? Well, this was a piece of chocolate covered orange peel. Bleah. My painfully wincing expression told her that this was not something I enjoyed. It was not the pleasurable culinary experience she was hoping to share with me. And so, being a good friend, she ran off to get me something to wash that taste out of my mouth. And being a good friend, she knew I didn't drink alcohol, which made it difficult, at that party, to find something for me. What she ended up grabbing was a cup of tea. Unfortunately it happened to be red zinger tea, otherwise known as orange peel tea.

Baha'u'llah, to me, gives us one criterion we can consider, when He says to prefer each other to ourselves. My good friends are those people whose preferences I generally prefer to my own. Now, I have to tell you, I often watch movies by myself (which is not in the same category of weirdness as those who drink by themselves). And I would far rather see a movie that a friend wants to see then make them watch one that I want to see that they don't.

There are certain virtues that I believe are conducive to making a friendship stronger, such as trustworthiness, trust, fidelity, honesty, caring, love, compassion, and joy, just to name a few. I think encouragement goes a long way, too. In fact, there is a wonderful little quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha in which He says, "When we find truth, constancy, fidelity and love we are happy."

And then there is that other quote from Him, found towards the end of that great prayer, in which He says of God, "Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself." Why would this be? Well, who else is truly worthy of our trust? Who can show greater love? Who is more wise, compassionate, and loving than God?

In he end, we will all fail each other in some way, for that is part of the nature of our being human. And if we can better learn to overlook the shortcomings of others, and help them overlook our own shortcomings, then the more our friendships will flourish. God, of course, is the absolute example of all these virtues, and is, therefore, more friend to us than we can ever be.

But really, if we can learn to be more generous, more forgiving, more worthy of the trust of our neighbour, and so on and so forth, then we will not only learn to be better friends with each other, but also better human beings. And we will, in the end, learn a lot more about making the world a far better place to live.

So, what is friendship? I think it is the application of the virtues in relation to each other.

1 comment:

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