Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

International Compassion by Keifer Ludwig


Those who have enough generally go to school or work, sometimes both. They spend time with their friends, their families, maybe throw in a hobby or two to existentially realize the platitude of variety being the spice of life. People do their taxes, try not to break the law or get fired, and focus on life-goals such as starting a family, getting a promotion, or by some means coming by a large sum of money or fame. This is what a typical life looks like for a typical person in the West and in places throughout the rest of the world. So rarely is one afforded (either by themselves or by the overscheduling auspices of society) the opportunity to consider the process. Even when someone does have the opportunity of time to consider the way things work, they rarely capitalize on this luxury, instead texting or drinking or imbibing on some other mind-numbing activity. In reality, none of these things are given—they are constructs society has laid out in front of us which we unconsciously accept. For instance, people do not consider that a prospect such as friendship is entirely a construct of our own making. And so we rarely analyze the types of friendships we may want beyond what is considered customary. Few of us think about specifically why we chose someone as a friend unless we are doubting whether someone we have already taken as a friend is a good friend in the first place. This only serves as a microcosm for how we deal as a society with other societies. We may operate as our forefathers have dictated by custom and old ideas of morality and success, but this does not grant us as prosperous relations as new methods tailored to the society in which we live might.

Due to the very nature of capitalism, freedom and self-interest tend to be held as two of the ultimate personal achievements in society. In the examples I listed of personal growth in the opening paragraph (starting a family, getting a promotion, or coming by a lot of money or fame) all are framed as somewhat selfish goals. Getting a promotion costs your neighbor the very same promotion, coming by money in essence takes away that money from others, fame itself is a construct that feeds into our egos of being appreciated and subsequently feeling worthwhile. Even starting a family, a goal that could be noble in fulfilling one’s duty of passing on the torch is framed as a self-serving endeavor in creating something private and sacred for yourself. C.S. Lewis comments upon this phenomenon: “History knows many periods of dark times in which the public realm has been obscured and the world become so dubious that people have ceased to ask any more of politics than that it show due consideration for their vital interests and personal liberty. Those who have lived in such times and been formed by them have probably always been inclined to despise the world and the public realm, to ignore them as far as possible, or even to overleap them and, as it were, reach behind them—as if the world were only a façade behind with people conceal themselves—in order to arrive at mutual understandings with their fellow men without regard for the world that lies beneath them,”[i] (343). This situation of a societal milieu captures our own quite articulately: think about the national disenchantment with our government. As of April 11, 2018 only 18% of Americans approve of the job that congress is doing[ii]. That is a lower rating than the rating of most any individual figure America has seen on the political realm. We have grown to dislike the collective and see most everything as a means for our own interpersonal interaction, namely, to achieve what we want in the world. As I have shown above, these achievements are double-edged swords, and while they may succeed in slicing whatever roadblocks lie ahead of us, they also end up cutting ourselves in the process (and sometimes we open our eyes to see that the roadblocks which we sliced are other humans whom we care about). But this translates internationally as well, and we need to change how our government deals with other governments to set a model for paradigm shift in peoples’ behavior.

The manifestation of this attitude I have referred to above is neoliberalism, and since the United States has implemented neoliberalism as an internalized economic policy, other countries have suffered. In Todd May’s Friendship in an Age of Economic, the author quotes Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang: “Since the 1980s, when the continent embraced neo-liberalism, Latin America has been growing less than the third of the rate of the “bad old days” [the preceding period focused on internal economic development]. Even if we discount the 1980s as a decade of adjustment…per capita income in the region grew at basically half the rate of the “bad old days” (3.1% vs. 1.7%)…As for Africa, its per capita grew relatively slowly even in the 1960s and the 1970s (1-2% a year). But since the 1980s, the region has seen a fall in living standards,”[iii] (10-11). This shows specifically that this attitude as an internalized international mindset directly impacts other countries negatively.

We need to undo the effects of neo-liberalism to engender a society in where we treat each other not just with more respect but with more compassion and interest in the other person for the sake of the other person. If our government were to truly open discourse on the state of the union, instead of talking about weighty topics (that already are within our constructed version of society and do not deviate) in a way that is inaccessible for all, people would be able to process that the construction of society at large isn’t a stasis—it’s rules ebb and flow and change over time. We need to reevaluate every institution and how it impacts the world, not just us. For borders, like friendship, are constructs of their own. And borders negate the prosperous tendencies of friendship.



[i] Lewis, C.S. “The Four Loves.” Friendship: Philosophic Reflections on a Perennial Concern, by Philip

Blosser and Marshell Carl. Bradley, University Press of America, 1997.

[ii] Gallup, Inc. “Congress and the Public.”,

[iii] May, Todd. Friendship in an Age of Economics: Resisting the Forces of Neoliberalism. Lexington

Books, 2014.



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