October 8

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What Is the True Meaning of Friendship Beyond the Complexity?

Today, I have a wonderful question about the true meaning of friendship for you!

As you might know, one of my readers suggested that I ask you to send me challenges and questions you'd like me to answer (a bit like a "Dear Abby" column.). 

Thanks to a courageous person who did, this project is on its merry way! I love that the first request is about friendship, as this might be the single most perfect topic to start a "Dear Bere" column. 🤩

Alright, let's explore the request, shall we?

Dear Bere,

I find myself in a bit of predicament - the concept of friendship has become obfuscated to me.

It used to be that my close friends were those that have shared with me compelling conversation, meaningful memories, and a vulnerable volition. However, as I age, I see the definition of friendship becoming much more... simple, shall we say?

My closest friends now are those that recognize my most base humanity. It is the person at Chipotle who remembers my order. It is the guy at the ABC store who doesn't need to see my ID. The people who have an understanding of my life that sometimes even I am not aware of - they give me fulfillment.

In some ways I feel loss. That the "bar has been lowered" so to say, in my taxonomy of friendship. At the same time, I feel growth. That the most innocuous moments in life give me more presence than the depths of heart-to-hearts.

Am I crazy for rebranding friendship to be something so incidental? Is it a disservice to those that have given me decades of life, to consider them in some ways - less close - than someone who I interact with 15 mins a week? Is it appropriate to share how I feel about the "incidentals" in my life - to let them know they are more valuable in my life than the person I'd choose to be my best man? If I were in their position, I feel like it would be overwhelming to hear.

I would love to hear your perspective on this predicament. The complexity of the reflection has left me in void. If there is reconciliation in this polarity, I hope you may guide me to it.

- First person to write in a question

Dear Pioneer,

Thank you for being the first to pose a question and breaking the ice, so to speak! I appreciate your courage and the depth of your request.

You are asking a compelling question. What is the true meaning of friendship?

There are words in the English language (and presumably in most other languages) that are confusing because they can mean so much and so little… the term “love” being a prime example.

I love my husband… and I also love green tea. We use the same word for both experiences, even though they are clearly not the same.

Friendship is a similar term.


What is the real meaning of friendship?

Before I answer the specific questions you posed, here are a few general considerations about the word we are exploring:

  • The term friendship is just that, a term. It is not the experience of friendship itself. The word “friendship” is the map, whereas the experience of friendship is the territory.  
  • How terms are being used varies from culture to culture and time to time.
  • Dictionaries define the current, common understanding of friendship in the Anglo-Saxon sphere in two ways: 1) a relationship between two or more people (Collins), or 2) the quality or state of being friendly: friendliness (Merriam-Webster)
  • Friendship definitions exist on a spectrum. On one extreme we find philosophers of old who held true friendship in higher esteem than marriage. The other extreme is the realm of Social Media, where the term Facebook “friends” doesn’t mean much.
  • Since the definition varies so much, I would argue that there is no one true meaning of friendship. I think everyone is free to decide on their own definition.

In case you are interested, here is my definition of friendship:

Friends are the people I am willing to help move or support in other ways I’m capable of, even when it’s inconvenient for me... and that I assume feel the same way about me.

Loved ones are friends and family members I feel so close to that I would give them one of my kidneys if they needed it... and that I assume feel the same way about me.

Now let’s move from the general to the specific, to the questions that you asked:

Redefining friendship: am I crazy for rebranding friendship to be something so incidental?

I don’t believe you are crazy at all for having the feelings you describe.

Feeling connected to virtual strangers is a beautiful experience that expands heart and consciousness.

There is a spiritual truth in that experience (“we are all one”) and even a biological one (if you go far enough down the family tree, every human you meet is a distant relative of yours).  

If you look at the definition I shared above, friendship can both describe a relationship or just a state of being friendly.

I would assume that your experiences with the “incidentals” in your life fall into the second category… of being friendly with each other.

However, I would suggest that your feelings describe a somewhat different experience than what is commonly referred to as friendship in its relationship-sense… that your experience point to the sense of shared human connection, of unity, of belonging to the same family.

In a way, it is more meaningful to have that experience with someone who is a virtual stranger than with people who are already close to you.

I think this experience is what you refer to here: “At the same time, I feel growth. That the most innocuous moments in life give me more presence than the depths of heart-to-hearts.”

While there is no one true meaning of friendship and while you're free to define it as you like, I could imagine that it might feel better to place these “incidental” encounters in another category than your long-lasting relationships.

Perhaps one way to reframe it is that you are experiencing a friendly connection with them or noticing your shared humanity, a sense of oneness.

That might be different from friendship as an established relationship where you can rely on each other.

As a joke goes that I once heard: “Good friends help you move. Very good friends help you move bodies.”

While none of us require the latter, being able to rely on someone to be there for you (and vice versa) to me is an integral part of friendship (in the relationship-sense of the word).

While strangers can sometimes provide the most loving support and show us extreme kindness, we typically don’t expect that from them and there’s no implicit agreement in place that they would do that.


Is it a disservice to those that have given me decades of life, to consider them in some ways - less close - than someone who I interact with 15 mins a week?

I would differentiate between how you think about this internally and what you express externally.

Internally, I think you should allow yourself to consider things in whichever way you want. Free thinking (even in ways that are considered taboo) tends to help with growth much more than censoring your thoughts.  

The truth is that sometimes we can be more impacted by someone we have only met once (or even never met) than by the people we see every day.

If you think about it, a lot of religion is that way. For instance, people living today have never physically met Jesus or Buddha and yet might feel closer to either of them than to their own family.

Even outside of religion, people are impacted in similar ways by people long gone (for instance, great philosophers or leaders). 

When people feel close to someone they don’t know well, I think this is often because of a positive quality that person represents to them—such as integrity, love, spiritual connection, etc.  

So while it is not unusual to experience the discrepancy you are pointing towards, I think expressing this outwardly might do a disservice to those who consider themselves your friends (and ultimately, also to yourself).

What you see as the true meaning of friendship can remain your secret or something you only share with a few trusted people.

The reason I would advise you to be cautious is that you might currently be going through a transformative process where you awaken to new depths of your experience… and how you define friendship might change over time. 

By playing these changes close to your chest until they have fully stabilized, you lower the risk of accidentally damaging important relationships.


Is it appropriate to express my feelings in my "incidental" friendships?

Is it appropriate to share how I feel about the "incidentals" in my life - to let them know they are more valuable in my life than the person I'd choose to be my best man? If I were in their position, I feel like it would be overwhelming to hear.

I think you have answered your own question there. (By the way, great job for putting yourself in their shoes!)

However, while you probably want to avoid statements such as the one you shared, there are still ways to communicate to the “incidentals” how meaningful they are to your life in a way that wouldn’t overwhelm them.

For instance, here’s a way to put it: “I’m so grateful that you remembered my order. Thank you. That really made my day!”


I believe this is a good segue to share my gratitude with you.

Thank you again for your question about the true meaning of friendship, Pioneer!

I hope my answer was helpful to you and I wish you all the best with navigating the terrain of friendship and this crazy experience we call being human.

Warmly,  
Bere


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