Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

The Flower of Friendship: Friendship in International Relations (Cat Potts)

In our world, we are raised to see the populous as divisible into two sections: us and them. Those who are not with ‘us’ are against ‘us’, and therefore our enemies. We are trained to look for certain signs as to who may be deemed on our side and to isolate those who may be against us. Yet, rather than focusing on who is ‘on our side’, we are more equipped to easily recognize enemies, so much so that we often may not even consider our non-enemies to be friends, but simply as neutral parties. By doing so, we isolate ourselves. How, then, in this isolation, can we know who, or what, a friend is? We could turn to literature, yet there is so much that “exists on enemy images but little on friend images”[i]. We could turn to the media, yet any brief scroll through CNN’s website will lead to the further perpetuation of othering[ii]. We must, then, turn to each other—friendship, as has been mentioned in multiple lectures in the past two weeks, arises from talking to each other and by doing together[iii]. Yet, how is it that we ‘do together’ when it comes to international relations?
In reading Andrea Oelsner’s take on the role of friendship within international relations, her descriptions of peace seem particularly applicable to descriptions of friendship. She describes peace as “a process,” as needing “constant attention and commitment,” something that is “self-reinforcing,” and “defined by the presence of confidence and trust”[iv]. It seems, then, that if we are able to work to build positive and strong friendships, we will also internalize the ability to create peace. I am of the belief that we cannot have deep friendship if we are not friends first with our own self. Self friendship, sometimes equated with self-love, is the attentiveness to one’s own needs, a care and respect for one’s own mind and body. Just as we cannot have friends until we our friends with ourselves, so we cannot have peace with other nations until we have peace within our own. Therefore, we must start small, and work on ‘doing together’ within our own communities, and then spread the doing together. We do not have to perfect our systems of interactions, but simply build a strong foundation. When we work towards friendship, we work towards building a system that demonstrates justice. As discussed in class on April 12th, justice depends on friendship, for friendship has the goal of equality in its heart[v]. Formation of a strong system of justice, brought about by the practices of friendship and the conversations that accompany these practices, will lead to stronger international relationships, as with our own development and strength we will be able to extend ourselves towards others, in a way that is not harmful or detrimental. Friendship, like international relations, is about listening. It is about opening ourselves up, like a flower in bloom. As mentioned in class on April 17th, we “don’t fall into friendship, [we] stand in it. It has to be built,” and needs nurturing, just as a flower does.

Early on in this course, we spoke of the development of technology as a factor of isolation in interpersonal relations. However, we should also consider the great gift of the internet. We have the ability to connect to those who are thousands of miles away from us with the use of the internet. Travel is not always financially feasible for individuals, which was one of the only ways that individuals could spread conversation and ideas for the longest time, with of course the very slow avenue of letter writing being an alternative. With the internet, which is essentially worldwide (with the occasional exception here and there), we are able to reach those who we may not have been able to contact previously. With this contact, we can share details of our lives, our thoughts on certain issues, the truth of our stories, and information about how we view the world. The act of conversation itself is a way of ‘doing together’: it requires mutual input, listening from both ends, and the absorption of information given to you by the other party involved. This, I believe, is how we begin ‘doing together’ from across the globe. Granted, in the United States we have a lot of work to do in terms of our ability to have positive relations internationally, yet if we were to view the interactions on a person to person basis instead of pursuing them as business transactions, we would perhaps have more luck and provide a more positive impact. As we continue to nurture our own governmental flower, we can begin to spread sunshine on those around us, both physically near and at a distance. While we may not always be able to “do together” face to face, we now have the privilege of and the access to advanced technology that can help alleviate the feeling of distance from across the ocean. With enough sunshine toward ourselves and those around us, we can provide the rays and light of friendship toward those far away from us, leading to a worldwide garden of nurtured souls and strong friendships. Growth is slow, but just because flowers don’t bloom as soon as it’s warm doesn’t mean they won’t be beautiful as the season passes.


I affirm I have adhered to the Honor Code on this assignment (Cat Potts)

[i] Page 142, Friendship in Politics in Andrea Oelsner’s chapter entitled “Friendship, Mutual Trust, and the Evolution of Regional Peace in the International System”.

[ii] A headline I found while visiting the main page: “Derek Jeter calls Bryant Gumbel ‘mentally weak’”. Granted, not the most divisive headline, nor the most significant, but still a prime example of a “me vs you” mentality.

[iii] I have this written in my notes from both 4/17 and 4/19, but it’s been mentioned in weeks past, as well.

[iv] Taken from pages 147 & 148 in Oelsner’s chapter in Friendship in Politics.

[v] These were presented as two separate ideas, but I think they go nicely together, so I’m slightly  paraphrasing the lecture.



Works Cited

Friendship in Politics. Edited by Graham M. Smith and Preston King. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007.

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