Fundamentals of Friendship

It all began with an evening dinner with a friend.  Dinner with a friend is always easy.  We don’t have to impress each other.  The conversation flows.  The interest is mutual and the verbal exchange is satisfying.  Reflecting on it gives me a chance to ponder the beginning and development of friendship.  Even though I teach a class on spiritual friendship, I don’t pause enough to value the gift that friendship is. 

As I reflected on it, I realized there are some fundamentals of friendship.  I know we could list even more than I will list here, but these five surely are fundamental to any significant friendship.  I would name the five fundamentals of friendship to be connection, affection, attention, care and good will.  Let’s look at each one of these. 

Surely connection is an essential ingredient of friendship.  In fact, we could begin a definition of friendship as the art of making a connection.  No pair of friends is friends from birth.  The formation of friendship begins with the art of making connection.  I am sure there are multiple drivers of the initial connection.  People might be smart, attractive, interesting and so many other things.  But there has to be something that provokes the connection.   

Connection is a more powerful word than encounter.  I encounter many people with whom I make no connection.  Connection is an encounter that “sticks.”  A connection between two or more friends is an implicit (and then, probably, explicit) commitment to hang in there together.  Connection develops psychologically and spiritually.  True and deep connections exist even when the friends are not physically present to each other.  In fact, friendships can persevere through many days or, even, months of absence from each other.  Even in absence, friendship is still “there.” 

I am not sure connection by itself is sufficient to make a friendship.  More is needed.  The second fundamental is affection.  I cannot imagine a friendship could develop without affection.  Affection is a tricky word in our American culture, because things become so easily sexualized.  Certainly sexuality includes affection, but it is just as certain that not all affection is sexual.  I understand this more deeply when I remember that in all the classical languages, the word for friendship is a “love” word.  In this sense why would affection not be present? 

The third fundamental necessary for friendship is attention.  Friends pay attention to each other.  This happens in some ordinary, routine ways.  But without attention friendships would not be formed nor could they last.  Friends pay attention by listening to each other, by watching out for each other and many other ways.  The root meaning of the word attention comes from the Latin, tensio, which obviously gives us an English word, “tension.”  The prefix, “at” is a Latin preposition meaning “with” or “to.”  So attention is being “put in tension with.”  Think of a hug: that is being put in tension with.  Attention is a good thing!

The fourth fundamental is care.  I cannot imagine friendships could survive without care.  “Take care” is not simply a phrase you utter when someone leaves your presence.  Friends literally “take care” of each other.  Just think of the myriad ways that friends care for each other.  It might have a physical component.  Often it is psychologically and, certainly, spiritual.  At dinner with my friend I noticed the care we had for each other.  It was not flashy; it was simple and profound at the same time. 

The final fundamental of friendship is good will.  I take the two words---good will---literally.  For my friend I have a “will” that is “good.”  I would never wish a friend bad stuff.  Whatever I say, whatever I do is intended for the good of the friend.  And the beauty of all this is the mutuality of friendship.  What I am intending for my friend is reciprocally intended for me.   

In this sense friendship is always a boomerang.  Like a boomerang, friendship is thrown out there and all the stuff comes back my way.  It seems miraculous.  If I feel a connection being made with a friend it is because I am being connected.  If I give affection to the friend, it boomerangs back to me and I am affected!  Attention in a friendship is almost mirror-like.  I pay attention and attention is paid back to me.  This is a sweet deal.  The care I extend to the friend often comes back to me in the form of how care-ful the friend is of me.  And the good will is reciprocated. 

When you think about friendship this way, it is simply amazing.  In the moment friendship, feels so simple and so natural.  Within authentic friendship, there seems to be no stress and usually no mess.  And if there is a mess, friends clean it up fairly quickly because they are paying attention, caring and have good will.  And when the mess is cleaned up, there usually is a token of affection, which then deepens the connection. 

This actually sounds pretty God-like.  Indeed, I think it is.  It was a simple dinner.  But oh, the profundity of the friendship!

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