The World of Friends
Who are friends? What are friends? What distinguishes them from others? Are they the ever-reliable, being-there-when-you-need-them people? Or, is it their minority status that gives them the distinction and puts them in a class?
Although most of us readily and at times loosely refer to many people we know as friends, the appellation does not fit in every case. Some of us may think it is uncivil to describe someone as an acquaintance, which might be an accurate label, or may see no harm in introducing someone as a friend to another, whom you have known for longer. Of course, there are those who simply make introductions using people’s names and adding a bit about their profession, and perhaps allow everyone to figure out for themselves, from their mutual questions and responses, as to the nature of the relationship between any two.
To consider the nature of friendship from another perspective, can one’s spouse be a friend? One rarely calls one’s relations friends. A brother is just a brother, a sister just a sister and so on. Can’t a brother or a sister be a friend, too? Is a friend automatically someone outside the family?
More than the reliability factor, it is perhaps the freedom factor it is that determines a friendship. When you need some money badly, you may run to your brother, sure in the belief that he will readily help you. But when you have a terrible or embarrassing secret, or a personal problem, which you feel desperate to share with someone, you may feel safe to do that with a person outside the family, whom you describe as your friend, whereas your brother remains a brother, deserving neither an elevation in status nor any additional responsibility.
Is friendship then a strange or unknowable thing? Is a friend then an inscrutable being, an enigma? But, that sounds like a contradiction, as a friend is generally believed to personify dependability, someone you know very well, someone about whom you know a lot and, consequently, whose actions you can predict. Again, there is something that does not fit here. With most of us, very often, it is our friends who surprise us, not necessarily always pleasantly, who fail to show up, do not return calls, forget important things and exhibit an unmistakable and endless capacity for such errors of commission and omission, which can cause minor or major damage and disturbance.
Clearly and unquestionably, there is a difficulty in designating someone as our friend, especially when we assume the designation implies certain qualities on the part of the one so designated. Yet, once we have designated and accepted certain people as our friends, we do not confer upon them the inalienable right to enjoy the status. Rather, we promote and demote them as and when we please, depending upon whether they happen to cause joy or grief in us. Our own ambivalence and shifting perceptions about how we see them put us through a range of experiences and perhaps thus highlight the curiously beautiful inscrutability of the relationship. But then, only the really strong among us who also happen to possess a spirit of adventure survive the tumultuous journey and remain ever willing to indulge in further potentially perilous undertakings. Amidst all the confusion, one thing is clear: With a friend it is that one has continuous and abundant dealings. If that requirement were to be taken as sacrosanct for the relationship to be valid, then we are confronted with another difficulty. If you have continuous and abundant dealings with a person whose interests are in conflict with yours, as can happen, for example, in business, academics and politics, is that person then your friend? Is the person your enemy and friend? Is that a possible combination? Well, don’t we know of friends, our own or others’, who have wished and done harm to those whom they once loved and cared for, for reasons and under circumstances neither understood nor justified?
If we then admit that being in a friendship is tantamount to being in a double-edged engagement, do we follow any rules and take any effort to sanctify, dignify and preserve it? Perhaps, depending on whether it is more a burden or a blessing, for it is over time likely to be both, you cancel it by maintaining a sustained silence and refusing to respond to any communication or contact, or carry on despite everything.
If you enjoy a fierce debate, it should not matter whether it is with a friend or with an enemy. If you enjoy a delectable meal, the sort of company is immaterial. But then, what is critical is what happens after the debate and the meal. The enemy will have gone. But the friend will be there. Whether to contribute to your happiness or cause you trouble and pain, time will no doubt tell. But whether you stay or walk away, you will have to decide. Now.