There is something to be said for the assertion of independence. When we are children, we take pride in the first time we ride a bike without training wheels. When we are teenagers, we go out with our friends in the evenings without our parents. As young adults, there is satisfaction in moving out of your home into your own place, and being able to cover all of your expenses by yourself with money you’ve earned from your labor. In a society where success is measured in independent ventures, what, then, is the purpose of friends? It may be easy to disregard them, particularly if they are viewed through a purely utilitarian lens. Friends, however, are more than just useful. Friends allow us to reflect on ourselves, and through this teach us how to interact with others, and thus build a strong and affirming community. Friendship, then, is crucial to modern society, and must return as a defining paradigm of our lives.
In Martin Buber’s I and Thou, his central argument is that “friendship is a survival necessity in terms of identity” due to the principle of the I-Thou relationship[i]. When we think of the world in terms of I-Thou, we create a dialogue between ourselves and those around us. We humanize others, and notice our own behaviors in terms of how they affect those with whom we are interacting, for “friendship facilitates self-examination”[ii]. This is juxtaposed with the concept of I-It, which is not a dialogue, but rather a method of viewing the world as something to be used and manipulated through our convenience. While I-Thou is productive and helps us develop into fuller versions of ourselves, I-It isolates us and drives us to selfish behaviors. Instead of thinking how we affect others, we think about how others can benefit us, because it is based in objectification. Without the dialogue provided by I-Thou, we are stagnant, as “growing and becoming occurs between people”[iii]. Friends also hold us accountable. I am reminded of Willie Nelson’s song “Buddy”, in which he warbles, “laugh with me, buddy/ jest with me, buddy/ don’t let her get the best of me, buddy/ don’t ever let me start feeling lonely”[iv]. This song, narrated by a man on the brink of heartbreak, reminds us that our friends not only bring out the best in ourselves, but also keep us level-headed and grounded and remind us of our flaws. Friendship, we are reminded by Cicero’s fictional character Laelius, “is nothing other than an agreement…accompanied by good will and affection”[v]. It is very much a two-way street, an interaction between two people. By learning to build friendships, we learn how to become good citizens, and in becoming good citizens, we can build a strong, healthy, and positive society, which we are in need of now more than ever. How, then, do we make the jump from friendship to community?
In both citizenship and friendship, there is an element “of consent”[vi]. Citizenship, like friendship, is an agreement. One must agree to participate in society, to agree to be a part of the community in a positive and cultivating manner. Of course, one may choose to isolate themselves and not to participate in society, but the society will continue to exist, regardless. When we learn to make friends and nurture friendships, we learn to create environments in which others can thrive. With positive and strong friendships in our lives, we are more likely to, in turn, create a positive and strong society, as through friendship we learn to see the world through another’s eyes and to develop empathy. The I-Thou dialogue extends itself beyond the world of two individuals and melds into, for lack of better terminology, an I-Y’all conversation. We no longer see ourselves isolated through the interactions of ourselves and one other, but through all of those around us. As Walter Nicgorski notes, “good persons make good friends and need good friends to remain in their virtue, and it is through such persons that the ways of good cities are progressively made. Such cities in turn nourish and support good persons and true friendships”[vii]. To become good people, we must interact with those around us, and eventually those interactions will blossom into friendships.
In our society today, particularly in the United States where there is so much hostility and opposition between two sides, we must learn to start conversations. However, without friends, we will not even know where to begin with those who are not our friends. This is not to say that we must suddenly be best friends with Paul Ryan or Donald Trump, but friendship teaches us how to talk to them. We are not incorrectly practicing friendship through selectivity, for “choosing our friends does not preclude us from extending fellowship, generosity, and compassion to strangers”[viii]. Rather, when we develop friendships, we learn how to develop a dialogue, a skill which we can transfer to our communication with those who have opposing opinions. Then, when we open up these conversations, we are able to potentially mitigate our troubles, and maybe find a middle ground that will bring us one step further to peace and safety in our society. Friendship, then, is a necessary element of our modern life; we cannot continue to move forward until we know how to talk to each other, and we will not be able to talk to our enemies if we cannot even talk to our friends.
I affirm I have adhered to the Honor Code on this assignment. (Cat Potts)
[i] Taken from class notes on 3/6 as discussed in “Martin Buber’s I and Thou, in Light of Christian Theology and Capitalism” by Clement Akran.
[ii] Page 103 of Friendship and Politics in the chapter written by Walter Nicgorski.
[iii] More from class notes on 3/6 when discussing Akran’s piece.
[iv] Off of his album, Good Times, released in 1969. Here’s a link if you want to give it a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDfLETGv28g
[v] Pag 94, as quoted in Walter Nicgorski’s chapter in Friendship and Politics.
[vi] Page 94, Walter Nickgorski’s chapter in Friendship and Politics.
[vii] Page 98, Friendship and Politics.
[viii] March 1st, 2018 Article from La Cruces Sun News by Algernon D’Ammassa.
Akran, Clement. “A Critical Review of Martin Buber’s I and Thou, in Light of Christian Theology and Capitalism.” LinkedIn. November 26, 2015.
D’Ammassa, Algernon. “Friendship a Good Model for Healthy Civic Life.” Las Cruces Sun-News. March 02, 2018. Accessed March 2018.
Heyking, John Von. Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought. Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2008.