Over Thanksgiving weekend, I had the privilege to read The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. While I enjoyed what he had to say about love in general, I particularly enjoyed his section on friendship.
Friendship is often taken for granted. Sometimes we forget how particular friendships are formed or why we are friends with certain people, but we do not deny the necessity of their existence. We laugh with friends and we know who our friends are. We tell secrets to friends and we cry upon their shoulder when the situation presents itself. We build communities through friends and we destroy community through cliques.
To befriend someone with a similar mindset as yourself is the most natural ‘thing’ to do. A baby who sees another baby playing in the same crib already has the basic notion of friendship.
Philosophically speaking, some of the greatest minds ever (Aristotle & Cicero) have written about friendship and have both agreed that it is necessary for the betterment of the soul and for the building of community. It must happen between two good people who pursue similar interests. Moreover, both agree that a pure friendship is incredibly rare. C.S. Lewis states, “Few value it (friendship), because few experience it.”
Lewis gives an incredible picture of friendship when he states, “Hence we picture lovers face to face, but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.” When I think of two lovers, I immediately think of two people completely infatuated with each other that they can only stare at each other’s eyes hoping to reach the depths of the other person’s soul through the eyes. When I think of two friends, I picture two (or maybe more) virtuous people running a race or climbing a mountain together. If one pulls ahead, he pulls the other(s) up with him or he slows down so he can walk together with his friends. If a person falls behind in the race, he tries extra hard to catch up with his friend who is now ahead. The capstone of this picture is not necessarily about who is pulling who up, but it is about where their eyes lay. They look toward the end and they run together so that they pursue the end together. It seems that in love (eros), you are pursuing each other. In love (friendship), you are pursuing the interest or the end goal.
Practically however, friendships are always changing. My best friend in Junior High may not be the same best friend I have in college. And that is the problem with friendships. They cycle in and out at too rapid of a pace. People change and stop pursuing the same interests they once pursued. Because friendships are always changing and they rarely last a lifetime, the question to ask is either 1. What can we do to keep a friendship? OR 2. What should we try to get out of a friendship while they do last?
The latter question seems a little less hopeful and maybe slightly more utilitarian. Maybe we shouldn’t give up hope in friendships and we should invest into each person’s life as if our friendships with them is really going to last forever. Maybe we should be wise with how we invest ourselves and pick a few friends instead of many. Maybe we should treat friendship as strong as we treat eros. And once we do such, maybe we can understand the importance of investing your entire self into another person’s life.
“Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best…Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves.” - C.S. Lewis
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