Friendship is one of life’s great rewards, however in todays online culture this can sometimes be confusing when you consider that the concept of a friend is scattered across so many settings. Which begs me to question have we become more fickle? I mean it’s quite easy to simply Unfollow someone if they post something unsavory or not to your palate, or perhaps just as easy to unlike someone who we once eagerly and impulsively decided we were going to ‘like’ on Facebook. Has this simple click of a button become a catalyst for simply dropping friends in real life just as easily as you can on social media?
For centuries we have considered love at first sight or instant connection a guide for investing in friendships and intimacy, however these investments have just as easily turned sour in our modern day friendships too. So what is friendship anyway? According to Psychologists, friendships can enrich our lives to varying degrees. There are of course varying degrees of enrichment, from mutual assistance, companionship, intimacy, affection, dependancy as well as some who seek socio economic goals in their friendships.
Aristotle characterized friends into three distinct categories: Utility, Pleasure and Virtue.
Those that engage in mutual pleasure-driven friendships can be described as the friend you go to parties with, see concerts with and generally have good conversations and laugh with. On the other hand friendships of utility offer more of a tangible advantage, this is mutually exchanged and is often done to gain social standing, business or perhaps a political interest. This could be the friend who gets you invited to parties on big boats, or perhaps charity events where you can rub shoulders with hard toned bodies holding Channel handbags. These advantageous friendships can at times be sought out by many and owe their durability to the amount of invitations they get.
Of the three categories I hold the virtuous friend in the highest regard as that friendship is based on the type of person that he or she is, not what they have to offer or how many fun times you can have. When Aristotle spoke of virtue I believe he referred to ethics, not in the oft thought stuffy formal sense.
The greatest gift a friend can give is their time. No implication here to spend vast amounts of time with a single person but rather the quality of that time spent. No matter if that time is short or infrequent our time is a most generous gift. We all value it and often cling to it and more commonly lament about where it went. My longstanding friends, some interstate and overseas that I unfortunately don’t spend much ‘time’ with anymore are what I know to be virtuous, I have a special soul connection with these friends. An anima cara – soul friends.
We have all heard of the term friendship vampire, those that suck us of our energy and take what they can. Sometimes what is taken is not tangible, we can be sucked into unrelenting emotional guidance, take on a barrage of complaints and negativity, be burdened by an individuals harshness or self interest or wasted hours on relationship dramas and gossip which have all drained me of my energy, my spirit, my mind and health and in turn has drawn me away from my anima cara.
I grew up in a large family with 2 brothers and 3 sisters so my friendships had been established early on mainly within my own family setting. Often times when one of us would invite an ‘outsider’ or ‘friend’ to our home, it was a mutual understanding that this person was a guest to be treated respectfully and in kind, not someone who we would fall on the sword for, as they were not of our blood line.
Growing up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne I spent many of my teenage years using my fake ID from Indooroopolly and heavy eyeliner to get into nightclubs like The Underground, Inflation and others too long ago to recall. Would I leave a cousin or friend to throw up in a filthy toilet cubicle after downing too many ‘Cock sucking cowboys’? Never.
Holding a friend’s hair back in a neat ponytail was an honorable duty. This was not what Aristotle had in mind when he spoke of virtue however you get the idea. It’s about owning a strong sense of Bushido, the honor of standing by someone in good times and in bad- Hospital bed or dance floor.
In light of a life changing diagnosis such as cancer the friendships I choose to invest in matter considerably more and more. When faced with thoughts on ones own mortality and how I had been accustomed to considering life through my own lens, the aperture quickly sharpened. The new viewfinder and understanding through introspection has made my picture much more clear and focused. I have tried to peel back the veil and see my life for what it is. It is a simple daily practice at living or more aptly the inevitable- a practice in death.
Socrates was convinced of the immortality of the soul, but for most mere mortals we become preoccupied with our life right now, and there is no dress rehearsal. A practice of contemplation and gratitude is what I need right now.
Perhaps this strong connection to virtue and family is why I have been comfortable to walk alone or share the footpath with companions at varying stages of my life.
Yes, I too have unfollowed friends at different moments of growth in my personal life, some friendships may perhaps flourish again, others will remain like the Goyte song; ‘Someone that I used to know’.