Amistad


Musings / Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Isn’t it interesting that the word ‘idiot’ is derived from the Greek work ‘idiotes’ which means a “a person who lives only for themselves?” Interesting. I would love to turn it over in my mind because that draws such a line between loving your self and leaving your self to others. And then we have ‘amistad.’ Latin for friendship. Recently, Thoughts, Birdy and I had an interesting email exchange on friendship. Now, friendship is a much abused word. Friends more so. I rather like amistad and amigos better! But during this conversation, we drew interesting parallels on the role friendship plays in our lives. I was surprised to learn that the three of us share much the same values in cherishing this ancient relationship (Oh yes, it is ancient, friendship was Aristotle’s favorite subject!). Things change as they inevitably do, but I am happy to know that I can see a few values that I had lost faith in, replicated in two good friends.

Now for example, I have this grand notion that love can’t be restricted to the select ties of blood and relation. We are born into loving our family, entertaining any other thought is a sacrilege wound on fear, and we try hard to love our relations – spouses, mainly. Right, some people don’t have to try hard to love their spouses, they just don’t love their spouses. So for me, loving a friend is no different from loving my dog to loving my sister. What! You put your dog, friend and sister in the same group! How can you! Yes I can! Love. Pure. Simple. If you can love, you do so. Just pure and simple. Love doesn’t know that one is called family, one is called a pet, and one is called that ready-to-be-cast-off-at-any-stage-object called friend.

But events over the past week have forced me to re-question and reexamine my life. As Aristotle again said, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living!’ I wanted to see if people behave unto you the way you are unto them – if so, what use is it really? Or are there people who behave unto you despite what you do unto them? I wanted to see if I can find such a person – and no, I drew zilch. People will only be nice to you as long you are nice to them, this whole ‘scratch my back, I scratch yours,’ extends to everything. And above all, I didn’t want to take the easy way – I have fallen many times in life – but I prefer doing that because its only when your nose is in the gutter that you can really smell the roses. I have had easy friends – easy-to-leave friends and tough friends – tough-friends-to-leave. Of the latter, I have very few. 1? 2? But I am happy I have them. And wasn’t Nietzsche also the one who said ‘people often conduct their friendships from behind high walls and fortified towers’? “Friendship is a problem though worthy of a solution,” he added. And indeed it is. My problem over the past week was that. Precisely that. But I have realized that to think of a solution is not worthy enough because that problem called friendship was never true in the first place. It can’t be because it never met the commitments of friendship, which sadly people seem to think rank lower in their life. First family, then whoever else I live my life with, then job, then home, kids…friends? Who are they?

How wrong such people are! Through the ages, philosophers and writers have obsessed about friendship. More has been written about amistad than romantic love. And where does it stand now? I read this interesting article – this was more about the effect of Facebook on friendships – but the author struck a few truths. I quote the passages I like:

Achilles and Patroclus, David and Jonathan, Virgil’s Nisus and Euryalus: Far from being ordinary and universal, friendship, for the ancients, was rare, precious, and hard-won.

We are nothing to one another but what we choose to become, and we can unbecome it whenever we want. –

So true!! This unbecome is precisely what has happened to me over the past two weeks!

Friendships serve no public purpose and exist independent of all other bonds. Friendships, unlike blood ties, are elective.

When all the marriages are over, friends are the people we come back to.

As for the moral content of classical friendship, its commitment to virtue and mutual improvement, that, too, has been lost. We have ceased to believe that a friend’s highest purpose is to summon us to the good by offering moral advice and correction. We practice, instead, the nonjudgmental friendship of unconditional acceptance and support—”therapeutic” friendship, in Robert N. Bellah’s scornful term.

I love this too! I often chastise myself for making observations about a friend – but perhaps, I am not being such a bad friend, if one were to consider this. Indeed, I took the Mark Vernon friendship quiz, and blush blush, scored 82! Out of 100! Hooray! And there was this question 9, that seemed to answer what the three of us also contemplated earlier.

Question 9
(b) We move onto another sort of friendship – work friendship: perhaps the quintessential example of ambiguous friendship. Although people form friends at work, even good friends, they are readily dropped, dissolved or disregarded when the pressures or vicissitudes of life take over. You mostly feel puzzled by your feelings when someone with whom you were friendly at work finds a new job and leaves: you have much in common with others.

And what did Mark Vernon himself have to say? I haven’t read his book, but the excerpt, his premise, is interesting.

My experience told me that whilst friendship can be great, its affections and commitments are often ambiguous. When a lover calls they automatically get first priority and family commitments are, well, family commitments. So perhaps the soaps are romanticising friendship, the agony aunts are falling back on it too fast, and the sociologists and politicians are being overly optimistic?

Indeed Vernon. I know that well. Priorities and their places. But here are more answers from that quiz I took. And I loved the fact that Aristotle would have agreed with me on this answer too:

(a) When it comes to the individual virtues that someone needs in order to be a good friend, self-awareness is certainly number one. Without that, you will delude yourself, and delude others

Indeed. I consider myself a pitiful, mean and little to like about soul. But I like to think that I am aware of my own meanness. My decrepitude. It feels good to know I do some things right, at least.

But amistad. Never knew there was so much written about it. And I am glad I have space for ‘amistad.’ Somehow, I can’t think of life beyond my self. I live for my self. And you see, amistad is very much a part of my self.

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