Nearly two years ago I wrote several posts on the nature of friendship that received more than a small amount of attention. Tonight I revisited those and filtered these through some recent writing on the nature of grace and obligation thinking specifically what these have to do with friendship, realizing already they have everything to do with it. I really can’t add much to what I have said in previous posts about this, but it will not stop me from trying.
Some of you have read these posts already. If you have not and you are a glutton for punishment, I am including the links at the conclusion of this post. For the sensible and those with better things to do I will reiterate some of what I said there in a few broad statements:
- Friendship is a type of love. It is one with a low threshold, but it is love nonetheless.
- Friendship is not what the Christian calls agape. That is an obligatory and commanded love; friendship cannot be commanded.
- Friendship usually involves reciprocity. The level of reciprocity varies and is sometimes absent.
- When reciprocity is absent, friendship involves a primitive grace.
- When reciprocity is present friendship requires a mature grace.
- Friendships with a primitive grace almost always end; friendships with a mature grace usually don’t.
- If you want to know what I mean by primitive and mature grace you can read my post “Grace and the Ginkgo Earrings.
- Friendship usually involves a drive (what the ancients call libido) to be fully realized. With that comes the increasing obligation found in mature grace.
Having said these things, I will consider a word that has been absent in my thought until now. That word is expectation. I mention it, because I think after pondering on the nature of friendship for nearly two years, I have most often neglected expectation as a part of friendship, unfortunate because nothing is more part of mature friendships than expectation. It is also something that is sadly lacking in society and it is tearing us down. Allow me to explain.
The post-modern world has more time for and gives more emphasis to friendship than ever before and with this there is a certain irony. We are piling up Facebook friends, we are spending more time with our friends doing pleasurable things, we are talking about the importance of our friends to the point of ad nausea, and we are calling more and more people friends making the definition of friendship to mean everything from the person we network with to the person we hook up with. In every instance we tend to ignore that a friend is someone who should carry expectations of us and we for them. And yet this is the element of friendship we forget.
We call friendship a rare thing, but the problem is we have become acclimated to having many “friends” and in the process have cheapened the meaning of the word. What we need to do is reacquire a certain honesty about friendship and what it is. We don’t have to stop using the word to mean a myriad of things; we just have to be honest with ourselves in knowing that on the deepest level a friend is different than a “friend.” We can start by asking ourselves who are those friends from whom we have expectations.
A good model for understanding this would be our families. Families are possessed with a terrific amount of love and we find ourselves utterly accepted by our families in spite of our greatest limitations, but we also know the familial relationship is not only one of this type of giftedness, but also one of obligation. In other words, we are loved in the greatest of ways by our families, but commensurate with this are the greatest of expectations. It is time we see our best friendships in similar fashion. If we fail to do this, we may as well give up on the meaning of the word friend altogether and assign it the same value as we give the word acquaintance. After all that is what we call friendship minus expectation.
That would not entirely be bad and we are on the way to understanding friendship that way already. Our newly defined word would include all those who give us our fond remembrances with no hint of obligation. Of course we would be forced into a new vocabulary to give definition to those who give our lives the greatest impact, but that would not be entirely bad either. Calling someone a confidante or a companion would become a little tedious after a while, but we would have a meaningful vocabulary to replace what was once a meaningful word.
Or we could just start being a little more judicious about the word friend. We could use the word broadly in our speech and know in our heart of hearts, it is a rare thing. The truth is we know that already; it is only we do not know what to do with it. To start we could proclaim it. We could tell our friends that they are really this thing to us and let them know they are different from all the others. (And they are not going to know unless you tell them.) We could do this for them and we could do it in the presence of others when that is called for.
We can also know that expectation does make one person different from all the others and the mark of a mature friendship involves this. We could ask ourselves what our expectations of another person are. If the threshold is low, we can continue to call that one a “friend” and be done with the matter. Chances are they know already they are assigned little in the way of meaning. If the opposite is true then we do have to be ready to say and expect as much, for the depth of someone’s impact is not nearly as obvious its absence. Besides if someone is that meaningful to you, you owe it to them to say it. When you do say it to them, you can know it comes with expectation for both of you. You also know that when you call them friend that this expectation also comes from the greatest of grace.
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