Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Setting Foundations for Friendship


Before institutionalization of friendship happens at an international scale, friendship first needs to develop on a national level. The world is more interconnected than ever but as a result, it seems like America is becoming more divided. Sweeping generalizations about entire countries are made. For example, claims that China is stealing American jobs overseas while Mexicans come to the country illegally to steal jobs. These stereotypes are harmful because it breeds contempt and the recent rise in protectionism. American citizens called for justice, and chose Trump as the bringer of justice. However, Aristotle counters justice by saying “if people are friends, they have no need of justice, but if they are just they need friendship in addition.” A paradigm shift to shift the focus from justice to friendship would help curtail the growing hate in America, and nurture positive bonds.

Political polarization runs deep in America and cuts trust by creating an “us” and “them” mentality. Trust is also lost from the recent surge in fake news. As we discussed in class on 4/5/18, telling is an invitation to trust. If we stopped to investigate every claim that came before us, we’d never get anything done! But we have no other choice than to be suspicious of the news when there are lies spread. Instead of being suspicious and discontent with the political system, strategies could be taught in school to differentiate “good” reporting/news with “bad” or false news. Fact checking is another important skill; learning to double and triple check facts with other news sources.

Education is the best place to start in institutionalizing friendship because most Americans go through elementary, middle, and high school where they are surrounded by peers. What better place to breed friendship than where we spend most of our youth. Additionally, people are at their most impressionable when they are young, so by introducing institutions of friendship early on, friendship could grow to be a more valued part of society.

Even before focusing on friendship itself, more focus should be given to learning virtue or philosophy in school. Philosophy should be taught, not the history of philosophy. The last thing we want to do is bore kids to death so that they never want to touch philosophy again. History is more boring and less concise. Part of the problem with politics is the certainty with which we hold our opinions. Teaching how to constructive have a dialogue is the first step to fixing the issue, and philosophy could be that solution. Todd May concludes from Aristotle’s conception of a virtue friendship that “a virtuous person is more likely to engage in a true friendship than a non-virtuous one.” Therefore, to create the conditions for friendships of virtue to be made, virtue should be taught in schools as part of an ethics or philosophy course. The stage needs to be set for friendship before friendships can be made.

Now specifically, an institution of friendship could be incorporated into art classes. Throughout my pre-college education, art was a required class. Very easily, a project could be required of classes to create friendship art and hold an exhibition each year. Even if not made public, the process of thinking through “what does friendship look like,” is important. Art is a universal language and schools could pair up with a sister school across the nation to share their art and create stronger bonds and stronger community.

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