By Paul Koch –
At the heart of true rebellion and the core of every revolt is not tyranny, poverty, or the violation of perceived rights but friendship. And it is friendship that seems to be in short supply these days. Connected to millions through our screens, we butcher the title “friend” as we search in vain for some assurance that we will not be scattered across the land. Connected to everyone, we are not really connected to anyone.
A few years ago, I read Cicero’s treatise De Amicitia (On Friendship), in which he treats the reader to a systematic examination of friendship. It seems somewhat shocking to me these days that someone would even write such a thing. Who now would invest the time and dedication to sit down and systematically assess not only the value of friendship but address both its limits and lifelong bonds? Cicero observes,
“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. In the face of a true friend a man sees as it were a second self. So that where his friend is he is; if his friend be rich, he is not poor; though he be weak, his friend’s strength is his; and in his friend’s life he enjoys a second life after his own is finished.”
C.S. Lewis takes on the topic of friendship in his work The Four Loves. Like Cicero, he attacks the examination methodically and deliberately, but he seems to recognize the limits to which one can speak about friendship. He writes, “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.” Friends don’t speak much about their friendship. In fact, to do so might make it something other than friendship.
But when coupling this with the ubiquity of social media, we find ourselves in a place where we don’t think of friendship as a serious thing. Since we don’t endeavor to figure out what makes it work, we face the repercussion that we might not even know what true friendship really is. We have lots of so-called friends. We have friends on Facebook, friends in the office, and friends from school. These friends are easily made and quickly forgotten. Friend is now the title we give an acquaintance, but I fear real friendship is in short supply, and that is terrifying news.
When we lose friendship, we lose the great corrective to the masses, the resistance to the common pull of our culture, and 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.” At its core, friendship is 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.
The way I see it, friendship is the establishing of the perimeter. It is the circle in which courage and honor mean something, where accountability and service are most impactful. It seems to me that perhaps all great revolutions and reformations against the powers of the state and Church began with friendship. That is, it didn’t begin with the global or universal goals of the movement but with how it would serve the one who was truly your friend. It wasn’t an ideal or a philosophy that threw men into the fray. Rather, it was a courage generated by friendship that caused them to make a stand.
Friendship is to know who is on your side. It guides whom we serve and how we care. It is powerful and even dangerous. It frustrates bureaucracy and resists the trends of the day.
And we don’t have to understand the nature of friendship fully. We don’t have to examine it like Cicero or Lewis, but we damn well better care about it and cling to those we are privileged to call friends. Without a friend, there is no resistance. Without a friend, there is only conformity or pointless isolation.