The Purpose of Friendship – Free Ebook

friendship should be one of the high points of existence and yet it’s also the most routinely disappointing thing we have to deal with. Too often you’re at supper at someone’s house, there’s an impressive spread and the hosts have evidently gone to a lot of trouble. But the conversation is meandering and devoid of any real interest it flits from an overlong description of the failings of the in-flight service on a particular airline to a strangely heated discussion about the tax code. The intentions of the hosts are hugely touching, but as so often we go home wondering what on earth the whole performance was really about. The key to the problem of friendship is to be found in an odd sounding place: a lack of a sense of purpose. Our attempts at friendship tend to go adrift because we collectively resist the task of developing a clear picture of what friendship might really be for. The problem is that we’re unfairly uncomfortable with the idea of friendship having any declared purpose, because we associate purpose with the least attractive and most cynical of motives. Yet purpose doesn’t have to ruin friendship and in fact the more we define what a friendship might be for the more we can focus in on what we should be doing with every person in our lives, or indeed the more we can helpfully conclude that we shouldn’t be with them at all. There are at least four things we might be trying to do with the people we know. Firstly, networking. It’s an unfairly maligned idea. We’re small, fragile creatures in a vast world. Our individual capacities are entirely insufficient to realize the demands of our imaginations. So of course we need collaborators, accomplices who can align their abilities and energies with ours. This idea of friendship was given a lot of space in classical literature. Take the Argonauts, the legendary ancient Greek tale, which traced how a heroic captain called Jason networked in order to assemble a band of friends to sail on the Arkham, in search of the Golden Fleece. Later, the same idea emerged when Jesus networked, to put together a band of twelve disciples with whom he could spread one or two world-changing ideas about forgiveness and compassion. Rather than diminish our own efforts as we hand out our business cards, such prestigious examples can show how elevated an ambitious networking friendships could ideally be. Secondly, reassurance. The human condition is full of terror. We’re always on the verge of disgrace, danger and disappointment and yet, such are the rules of polite conduct that we’re permanently in danger of imagining that we are the only ones to be as crazy as we know we are. We badly need friends because with the people we know only superficially, there are few confessions of sexual compulsion or of regret, rage and confusion. These superficial acquaintances refuse to admit that they, too, are going slightly out of their minds. Yet the reassuring true friend gives us access to a very necessary and accurate sense of their own humiliations and follies, insights with which we can begin to judge ourselves and our sad and compulsive lives slightly more compassionately. Thirdly, fun. Despite talk of hedonism and immediate gratification, life gives us constant lessons in the need to be serious. We have to guard our dignity, avoid looking like a fool and pass as a mature adult. The pressure can become onerous and in the end even dangerous. That’s why we constantly need access to people we can trust enough to be silly with them. They might most of the time be training to be a neurosurgeon or advising middle sized companies about their tax liabilities, but when we’re together we can be therapeutically daft. We can put on accents, share lewd fantasies or doodle on the newspaper, adding a huge nose and a missing front tooth to the President or giving the fashion model distended ears and masses of curly hair. The fun friend solves the problem of shame around important but unprestigious sides of ourselves. Fourthly, clarifying our minds. To a surprising degree it’s very hard to think on our own. The mind is skittish and squeamish. As a result, many issues lie confused within us. We feel angry but are not sure why. Something is wrong with our job but we can’t pin it down. The thinking friend holds us to the task. They ask gentle but probing questions which act as a mirror that assist us with the task of knowing ourselves. One side effect of getting a bit more precise about what we’re trying to do with our social lives, is that we’re likely to conclude that in many cases, we’re spending time with people for no truly identifiable good reason. These proto friends share none of our professional ambitions or interests, they aren’t reassuring and may indeed be secretly really very excited by the possibility of failure. We can’t be catharticly silly around them and they aren’t the least bit interested in furthering our or their path to self knowledge. They are, like so many of the people in our social lives, simply in our orbit as a result of some unhappy accident that we’ve been too sentimental to correct. We should dare to be a little ruthless in this area. Culling acquaintances isn’t a sign that we’ve lost belief in friendship, it’s evidence that we’re starting to get clearer and therefore more demanding about what a friendship could really be. In the best way the price of knowing what friendship is for may be a few more evenings at home in our own company

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