Monday, July 7, 2003

Defining Friendship... Part II

Distorted View of Friendship and Love... Taking the Next Steps

So for whatever reasons a friendship has begun. How that friendship grows is a different story. Some blossom into life-long relationships that stand the test of time and trials of life. Others quickly wither at the first signs of stress. I really believe the values of the individuals, personalities, and quality of interactions help define the strength of a friendship. One of my friends in New York recently lost a few of his close friends and a handful of others since he decided not to go along the path of partying that they were walking. These were his drinking and clubbing buddies for a few years. The majority of them starting getting into cocaine and he just didn’t want to go in that direction, but still wanted to hangout during the other times. They saw it as he was thinking he was too good for them or he was being judgmental since he wasn’t joining them in their cokefests. Conflicts occurred and most of them started to avoid him. So he learned who his true friends were he told me. Those that respected his decision and still wanted to maintain the friendship. There are a couple other situations I know of where party friends in the end don’t stay together because all they had in common was the dancing at night and drunken heart-to-heart talks. Or others that had friendships through sports teams, but outside of it they had nothing in common. As more responsibility occurs in life, priorities change and it can take more of an effort for people to grow a friendship.

I believe another factor in all of this is how our culture has affected our general thinking about love and friendship. Western culture emphasizes self and self-esteem. So a definition of love in the culture I grew up in is to help increase someone’s self-esteem. You show love and friendship by helping them feel better about themselves; being supportive; and giving encouragement. So a fair amount of times I'm the quack shrink for my friends, and they sometimes have problems in expressing concern or telling one of their friends things they don’t want to hear. They don’t want to get involved even if they know it will benefit their friend. Worst is that I might be friends with the same person, so I'm pressured to talk to that person or I myself feel obligated to do it (default megaphone or middle-man many times). Within Western culture, it can be to the point of overemphasizing the positives and pumping up a person's ego… to give props and say, “My friend is so money… he is the mac daddy of all-time… she is so fly!...” But not to tell them they should stop treating their girlfriend in such a way, slow down on the coke or your work will suffer, stop being lazy about your career, can't take advantage of your friends, stop pissing on the toilet seat, stop getting drunk and cheating on your boyfriend...

In Eastern culture, it is more about saving face and giving honor to a friend. Being in Korea over the past three years has really allowed me to experience how people just don’t want to tell others, including their friends, how they really think and feel. Very frustrating work environment too. Anyway, it’s either a passive-aggressive approach or the veiled-message method in communicating to others. Western or Eastern culture, the bottom line is that people want to make other people feel good about themselves, not step on their toes, or value keeping the status quo. This is a distortion of what I believe love is and should be, especially in the realm of friendship.

A pure example of love is between most parents and their child. Parents want what is best for their child and want to see improvement and growth and development. So they will scold the child, teach the child, talk to the child, comfort the child, etc. In a general manner, I believe the same should be for friends. Love between friends should be about doing what is best for someone, even if it means being honest with them and telling them things they don’t want to hear. Of course, I'm not saying encouragement and being supportive should be abandoned, but that this aspect should not be ignored. Telling friends things that might hurt their self-esteem, but in the end will make them a better person is the right course of action. Of course then it's up to the individual to react or not, but at least you tried to whatever degree. This is where friendship takes the next level. When two people can be humble and honest with each other, and in rare situations to risk the friendship for the betterment of the other person. This is one quality that I believe makes life-long friends.