Another tribute to the uselessness and arrogance of aphorisms (Blog# 11) is “People judge you by your friends.” This instance of great judicial wisdom would predict that the perceived quality, positive or negative, of the people with whom you choose to associate, will be determinative of your evaluated worth. Unfortunately, this reductive phrase is as popular as it is ignorant.
Our theme here, however, centers on the word, “friend”, its defining characteristics and function. In truth, the dynamics and role of this positive phenomenon may be the most salutary and life-affirming of all interactive relationships.
We would, perhaps too formally, define “friendship” as the recognized status of loyal relationship with common purpose. It may be distinguished from the word, “acquaintance” which we understand to be as well a relationship of familiarity, but with less depth and commitment. In “friendship” we not only recognize each other as a familiar, but are in such close interaction that we support each other’s personality and patterns of intimacy.
Friends can be observed in a myriad of categories, childhood friends (most, later become acquaintances), neighbor friends (example, young mothers with babies), family friends (rare), political and business friends, where common ties have morphed into friendship.
Friends with whom we frequently interact serve as consistent assurances and confirmation of our personal identity and self-image. Sometimes there are beliefs and behaviors that, in fact, are at variance with ours, but they too meet our expectations and so confirm our identity. Family friends may be less numerous and more complicated since they seem at times to depend upon loyal consensus of judgment concerning some historical fact or certain individuals.
Life without friends would be insular and lonely. It may be observed that our interaction with friends not only provides the office of confirming our self-image but also helps determine our tastes, opinions and to a certain extent, even our personal appearance. It is also the experience that it is somewhat comforting and calming to grow older with other contemporary familiars.
However, in fairness, friends are not the exclusive baseline for our take on reality. There are many significant relationships which fall short of the criteria for friendship but which do confirm us in our roles and identity. Neighbors, shopkeepers, barbers and hair dressers, bank clerks, newspaper salespeople, and the like, are all part of our regular dramatis personae, and by reason of their predictable presence and consistent function do confirm us in our familiar place in the scene.
As an illustrative example, we have observed a small group of commuter train riders who for many years occupy proximate seats so as to enable their participation in a regular game of cards on the way to Pennsylvania Station. Despite the fact that this coterie has so participated for a great many years, little is in truth known, each about the other, with the exception of first names and little else concerning their personal lives; yet the early morning card game has become a matter of significant institutional importance to their life’s routine.
While interaction with friends is of inestimable value in the quality of our lives so, in the same way many of our casual, but regular, interactions with identifiable others, add zest and identifiable structure to our lives and should not be undervalued.
An interesting category of friendly relationship is the short-lived, temporary bond between fellow vacationers. In this situation, we have the opportunity to take particular notice of our own familiar social skills and personality in the ephemeral situation. It may be observed that irrespective of any and all sincere and energetic expressions of undertakings to perpetuate the relationship beyond the period of the holiday, such good intentions rarely materialize.
The exalted role of friends, and the more mundane existence of acquaintances, together play essential parts in life’s acceptable and positive scenario.