By Paul Koch –
A few weeks back I was at a party in honor of my good friend Scott Keith having successfully finished his PHD. After locating the bottle of rye and settling into a few conversations with old acquaintances, Scott was escorted to a chair in the middle of the room so his friends might offer a toast and even share an embarrassing memory or two with the group. When I was asked to share a few words, I also told stories of our long journey of friendship (marked most notably by the quest for booze and coffee at proper intervals) but it was obvious that to speak directly about friendship was far more difficult to do.
I suppose this has always been the case. Cicero in his lengthy discourse on friendship certainly gives us delightful quotes such as, “Great and numerous as are the blessings of friendship, this certainly is the sovereign one, that it gives us bright hopes for the future and forbids weakness and despair.” Yet when you read his work there is so much that is left unsaid, so much that goes unexamined in our understanding of friendship.
C.S. Lewis takes on the topic of friendship in his work, The Four Loves. He is just as imminently quotable but he seems to recognize the limits to which one can speak about friendship. He observes, “Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” So I could talk about hiking through the snow in Fort Wayne with Scott to get a bottle of booze but not so much about the quality of our friendship. That is simply something friends don’t speak much about.
I bring all this up, not to try and take up the work of Cicero or Lewis and somehow carry it forward. Rather I bring it up because our recent silence on the topic of friendship seems to be the dreaded calm before the storm. We are in danger of losing something significant if we lose the powerful force of friendship.
We don’t talk seriously about friendship anymore. We don’t endeavor to figure out what makes it work. And even worse we might not even know what friendship really is. We have lots of so-called friends. We have “friends” on Facebook and “friends” in the office and “friends” from school. These “friends” are easily made and quickly forgotten. “Friends” are the title we give acquaintances, but real friendship is in short supply. When we lose friendship we lose the great corrective to the masses, we lose the resistance to the common pull of our culture, we lose the heartbeat of rebellion.
To quote Lewis again, “If our master, by force or by propaganda about ‘Togetherness’ or by unobtrusively making privacy and unplanned leisure impossible, even succeed in producing a world where all are Companions and none are Friends, they will have removed certain dangers, and will also have taken from us that is almost our strongest safeguard against complete servitude.” Friendship is, at its core, a rebellion. Now true, it can be in service for both virtue and vice. It can seek to elevate the mind or simply pollute the liver – or both at the same time. But without it we will be overcome by the current.
My point is simply this; to make a stand in the world, to resist the status quo, you must have a friend. We don’t have to fully understand the nature of friendship, we don’t have to examine it like Cicero or Lewis, but we damn well better care. Hold fast to your friends. Don’t allow this force to be so easily dispersed by a society that values the brevity of a conversation in 140 characters. Friends standing side by side will still do what others deem impossible.
Let the rebellion begin!