Sunday, May 24, 2009

Friendship - Part 3

Why is friendship important? Because friendships are the relationships we initiate by our own choice, and it is our own decision to pursue the relationship or not. Family ties are pre-ordained. As growing children we are taught to love Mommy, taught to love Daddy, taught to love sisters and brothers and so on. And this is a good thing. Our never ending education about love and relationships starts here. We also begin choosing our friends very early on. Any parent can tell about the satisfaction in seeing their toddler choosing who they prefer playing with. It is a joy to watch a child making her/his own choices. Making friends is probably the most important part of their early socialization outside the home. Most of what we learn about honor, loyalty, and sharing comes from the continuous making and breaking of friendships in our youth. The things we learn about love, trust, compassion and selflessness are shaped in the home, but their widest application comes in our friendships.

Another one of the most important things we gain from friendships is the ability to live with and love people who are not just like us. In a typical family unit, including the extended family there is a large, shared commonality. Of course there can be a divergence of opinion about big things like religion, politics, dietary choices, anything really, within the family group. But the ties that bind, cultural mores, ethnic sensibilities, blood ties and family hierarchy are much stronger. Many times the latter things overwhelm the former and can cause people to suppress the expression of any divergent opinions they may have. It can be stifling.

When we have friends who are different from us we get to learn firsthand about other cultures, other ethnicities, other religions etc. What is better, to learn what a Passover seder is during a lesson at school, or be invited to eat the meal at a Jewish friend’s home on the holy night? I use this example because I was blessed to have been able to do exactly that. And because I happened to be the youngest male at the table, I had to ask the ‘four questions’, in Hebrew. Don’t know what they are? Ask one of your Jewish friends. I felt honored, and the Passover story became much more meaningful to me. I doubt there is anyone who is not Jewish, who can tell me a whole lot about Judaism that I don’t already know. Knowledge gained from experience, not books. All because of having a friend different from myself. And I have shared my Christian holidays, my Italian and Norwegian family traditions with friends of mine who aren’t any of those things. And they have shared their way of life with me. And I must say that it was only by the example and encouragement of my parents that I learned to take the opportunity to make friends outside my large extended family, and even larger ethnically homogenous neighborhood. Both my parents always had many friends of different religions, skin color, ethnic origins, etc. Their example made it more or less natural for both my sister and I to have many friends that comprise a wide cross section of humanity.

We learn how to live with and love our neighbor through our friendships. Jesus said that after loving God with all our being, the next most important thing was to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus clearly intends that each of treat every person we meet as our neighbor. We cannot love our neighbor or anybody else, until we know who they are. And sometimes our neighbor will be a person who’s name we do not even know. But we do know this singular thing, that this other person is also a child of God. And this is knowledge enough to show him/her love. But outside of these brief encounters, knowing your neighbor means putting forth the effort to learn about each other. This means knowledge much deeper than the clinical name, rank and serial number stuff. We only let this type of knowledge be known to those who share the same with us. Friendship is the only method to establish the channel through which this knowledge will flow. So we carry out God’s most important human-to-human command through friendship. Can you dig it? I knew that you could.

Allright. The first three questions have been answered. So who are our friends? This answer has several parts. Let us talk first about family relationships. Parents and children. Someday I hope both my daughters are friends of mine. At their present age (9 & 5) they are definitely not my friends. I am their father and along with their mother we have many un-friendly duties to carry out for their benefit, and the benefit of greater society. We make the decisions regarding their diet, their appearance, their behavior, their morality, their safety and much more, then we impose our will upon them. This imposition of our will, is not the act of a friend. Our duty as parents is to be their first teachers. And the first lesson to be learned is all about respect for authority. The role of who is the parent and who is the child and the relative authority of both has to be learned first and foremost. As they grow and mature we place more and more decisions and responsibility into their hands. When the children see the parents respect their decisions, is when they begin to become friends with their parents. I don’t want my girls to be my friends right now. More important things need to happen before that day comes.

On siblings. Brothers and sisters are great things to have. The idea of an only child saddens me. Besides not having a live-in playmate growing up, an only child misses out on much more. When she was three, I saw my daughter Lucy looking through our backyard fence at two of our neighbors sons, about the same age, playing together. Even though I couldn’t see her face, I knew she wanted to be part of the action, and also knew if she had a sibling the longing and loneliness she was feeling would never reappear. I went directly inside to my wife and told her the time had come to expand our family. She happily agreed. My girls have each other and they are better off for it. Everything that comes with shared parentage creates bonds so strong that only the strongest friendships approach. But here again our sibling relationships are also one of the first places we learn about qualities we need to build strong friendships. Think about it, who can know what buttons to push to get a reaction better than a sibling? And who is more trusted than a sibling? I think it is a very common thing that our strongest friendships come from a template we learn from our relationships with our siblings. I have only one sister. Our relationship can be tempestuous at times. But there is no one I trust more. She can piss me off like no one else, but betrayal is out of the question. She knows more hidden details about me than anyone. And of course, I love her. Those last five sentences also apply to my strongest friendships.

Not all relatives are friends, and not all friends are relatives. A common family tree does not guarantee that you will be friends with all your relatives. On my father’s side I have a large extended family. My relations with all of them are close and warm, but I am not friends with all of them. Even with the ones who are friends besides being relatives, when we have had disagreements they have been heated, bitter and deep. More intense than with any friend who is not a relative. And I really can’t explain why. There is an old expression that goes “there is nothing like the hatred between brothers.” History verifies this. Abraham, who was mentioned above, had two sons. His firstborn, Ishmael was born to his wife Sarah’s Egyptian servant Hagar. His second son Isaac was born to his wife. The Bible says nothing about the relationship between the two boys. But the descendants of Ishmael (Arab/Muslims) have hated the descendants of Isaac and his son Jacob (Jews) for at least five thousand years. Look at the hatred between the Protestant Irish and the Catholic Irish. Another brotherly hatred approaching its second millennia.

Most of us have several or more friends who are not relatives. Those folks who have no friends outside their family circle, or only one maybe two close confidants are truly to be pitied. There is a certain wonderful richness that friends of different stripes bring to a person’s life. Our friends create a beautiful tapestry of many colors and textures for us to enjoy. People with few friends never know this kind of luxury. I believe that deep inside everyone there is a desire to have friends. There is really no excuse for not having a good number of friends. The Bible shows the way, “a man who has friends, must himself be friendly.” (Prov. 18:24 pt.1) A person needs to extend the hand of friendship, and be open to more if he desires true lasting relationships. Buddies, pals, chums, all come and go from our lives with sad regularity. Friends are much more than that. The second part of Prov. 18:24 goes “But there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” Do you want to know who your friends are? I happen to able to answer that. Your friends are;

• those who walk in on you, when everyone else walks out on you.
• those who put your welfare ahead of their own.
• those who give and ask nothing in return.
• those who tell you when you are wrong, without judgment.
• those who know all your faults and love you still.
• those you don’t have to ask.
• those you would do all of the above for and more.

If you have a person in your life who fulfills one of these, you can be sure he will fulfill all of them. These are your friends. Can you dig it? I knew that you could.


Hellzapopin said...

That list of what to look for is a good guide. You left off mentioning people who love you.

Auguste Ballz said...

Check the list again. But love can be very very fickle. If real friendship is there first I think - no believe- the ground is much firmer for love. If "love" comes first well, you pay your money and you take your chances.

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