Monday, July 7, 2003

Defining Friendship... Knowing About Someone and Knowing Someone Are Very Different

It was interesting this past Sunday as I sat in church and listened to the sermon. Not focusing on the actual sermon for this entry, but a point brought up by the pastor connected with some thoughts I’ve been having over the past couple weeks. The pastor was saying that you can know about God all your life through reading the Bible and other books, but you will not know God until you have an interaction or experiences that allow you to truly learn about Him. He related this to even a person who is obsessed with a celebrity. For example, a man is an Eminem fanatic. He knows Eminem’s life history, favorite foods, likes and dislikes, dating life, and even owns his first on-stage mike. He might even feel a close bonding with Eminem due to similar experiences or upbringing, or maybe even had one personal meeting a few years ago after winning a trip on MTV’s Fanatic to hangout with him for a day. But the reality is that he still doesn’t know Eminem. He hasn’t had any significant time to really know to some degree how Eminem thinks, reacts, laughs, cries, etc. So knowing someone isn’t an intellectual exercise or the amount of knowledge you have about someone, but the interactions and experiences that bond you and the other person together.

So some of the thoughts I’ve been having over the past couple weeks surround the topic of friendship. What is friendship? How is it defined for me and others around me? How strong are the bonds of friendship in my life and between people around me?

These questions were initiated by a couple situations. One was seeing a friendship between two people I know destroyed over a business deal. Another was seeing how guarded my parent’s have become with some of their friendships. Since growing up, my father would always warn me never to sign a personal loan even for my closest friend because one of his friends did the same and was in debt for millions after his friend fled the country with the money. There have also been situations where my parents helped out some friends during Korea’s economic crisis in 1997 (*parents live half the year in Seoul for business). In one situation, it was a close school friend of my father’s. He was unemployed and had some difficulty in supporting his family. After a year or so, he got a good position in the newly elected government, but never called my parents afterward. After some time, my parents just assumed he was busy, so they called him to see how he was doing, but he never called back. My parents didn’t want the money back or a favor, they just wanted to see how he was doing. My father was hurt by this situation since he assumed his friendship was based on something more than necessity or materialism.

Being a very cynical person, I have looked at many friendships in Korea with a critical eye. Majority of friendships, especially within the generation above, are based on school relationships. You went to grade school, middle school, high school, or college with someone and there is this immediate bond. If I thought about my high school, there were 500 students in my class and just because I went to school with them I wouldn’t consider them friends for life. For some reason, this institutional bond in Korea creates the idea of friends for life. Of course, the closer friends are the ones that spent a significant about of time with each other, but the whole foundation for friendship begins on shallow ground in my eyes. So when I hear of these stories from my father or friend’s parents about how this friend stole from this friend or backstabbed this friend, it really doesn’t surprise me. Not to oversimplify this discussion, the basis of friendship is not the cause of these situations. Money does funny stuff to people, even the most successful ones. And personal integrity plays a factor, as does the personality of the individual, and the culture and development stage of the country. I’m just slowly dragging my toe through the sand to start defining "friendship" in my world.

What is friendship? Some dictionary definitions are: one that is of the same nation, party, or group; one attached to another by affection or esteem; a favored companion. Simple definitions. People might also define it as... "someone you love", "someone you're able to share your inner thoughts with", "can cry with", "those that stop you from making mistakes", "loyal to you", etc.

I believe it can be a common history, common experience, family relationships, or sincere interest in the person that creates the initial bond. The usual cultivation grounds in life are school, gathering of parents, sports teams, work, and common friendships. There are varying degrees of friendship and factors involved that can make this discussion complex, but when I blog I don’t want to write a thesis or think too much so I’ll keep this casual as possible.

Anyway, you typically start out as an acquaintance with someone and numerous factors can push it to the level of friendship. For some, it’s time and familiarity (i.e. trust issues), convenience of the situation (i.e. work friends or limited pool to choose from due to geography or vocation), a strong interest in the person (i.e. fascinating person, just a great person, kind-hearted), or self interest (i.e. professional networking, affiliation with wealth, affiliation with celebrity). Vice versa, some people tend to be cautious with friendships because they had the intimate bond of friendship broken by distrust, betrayal, or some other factor in the past. Some like to keep their circle small because they feel they have limited time and/or resources, and want to focus on the friends that they have. Some are just introverted and want a small set of friends. Some are extroverted get energized by meeting various people. Others have strong selfish motivations that aren’t so well hidden, so people tend not to reciprocate the friendship. Or for other reasons, people do not want to open up to the person, so sometimes it is out of their control.