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  • friendship should be one of the high points of existence

  • and yet it's also the most routinely disappointing thing we have to deal with.

  • Too often you're at supper at someone's house,

  • there's an impressive spread and the hosts have evidently gone to a lot of trouble.

  • But the conversation is meandering and

  • devoid of any real interest it flits

  • from an overlong description of the

  • failings of the in-flight service on a

  • particular airline to a strangely heated

  • discussion about the tax code. The

  • intentions of the hosts are hugely

  • touching, but as so often we go home

  • wondering what on earth the whole

  • performance was really about. The key to

  • the problem of friendship is to be found

  • in an odd sounding place: a lack of a

  • sense of purpose. Our attempts at

  • friendship tend to go adrift because we

  • collectively resist the task of

  • developing a clear picture of what

  • friendship might really be for.

  • The problem is that we're unfairly

  • uncomfortable with the idea of

  • friendship having any declared purpose,

  • because we associate purpose with the

  • least attractive and most cynical of

  • motives. Yet purpose doesn't have to ruin

  • friendship and in fact the more we

  • define what a friendship might be for

  • the more we can focus in on what we

  • should be doing with every person in our

  • lives, or indeed the more we can

  • helpfully conclude that we shouldn't be

  • with them at all.

  • There are at least four things we might

  • be trying to do with the people we know.

  • Firstly, networking. It's an unfairly

  • maligned idea. We're small, fragile

  • creatures in a vast world. Our individual

  • capacities are entirely insufficient to

  • realize the demands of our imaginations.

  • So of course we need collaborators,

  • accomplices who can align their

  • abilities and energies with ours.

  • This idea of friendship was given a lot

  • of space in classical literature.

  • Take the Argonauts, the legendary ancient

  • Greek tale, which traced how a heroic

  • captain called Jason networked in order to

  • assemble a band of friends to sail on

  • the Arkham, in search of the Golden

  • Fleece. Later, the same idea emerged when

  • Jesus networked, to put together a band of

  • twelve disciples with whom he could

  • spread one or two world-changing ideas

  • about forgiveness and compassion. Rather

  • than diminish our own efforts as we hand

  • out our business cards, such prestigious

  • examples can show how elevated an

  • ambitious networking friendships could

  • ideally be. Secondly, reassurance. The

  • human condition is full of terror. We're

  • always on the verge of disgrace, danger

  • and disappointment and yet, such are the

  • rules of polite conduct that we're

  • permanently in danger of imagining that

  • we are the only ones to be as crazy as

  • we know we are. We badly need friends

  • because with the people we know only

  • superficially, there are few

  • confessions of sexual compulsion or of

  • regret, rage and confusion. These

  • superficial acquaintances refuse to

  • admit that they, too, are going slightly

  • out of their minds. Yet the reassuring

  • true friend gives us access to a very

  • necessary and accurate sense of their

  • own humiliations and follies, insights

  • with which we can begin to judge

  • ourselves and our sad and compulsive

  • lives slightly more compassionately.

  • Thirdly, fun. Despite talk of hedonism and

  • immediate gratification, life gives us

  • constant lessons in the need to be

  • serious.

  • We have to guard our dignity, avoid

  • looking like a fool and pass as a mature

  • adult. The pressure can become onerous

  • and in the end even dangerous. That's why

  • we constantly need access to people we

  • can trust enough to be silly with them.

  • They might most of the time be training

  • to be a neurosurgeon or advising middle

  • sized companies about their tax

  • liabilities, but when we're together we

  • can be therapeutically daft. We can put

  • on accents, share lewd fantasies or doodle

  • on the newspaper, adding a huge nose and

  • a missing front tooth to the President

  • or giving the fashion model distended

  • ears and masses of

  • curly hair. The fun friend solves the

  • problem of shame around important but

  • unprestigious sides of ourselves.

  • Fourthly, clarifying our minds. To a

  • surprising degree it's very hard to

  • think on our own.

  • The mind is skittish and squeamish. As a

  • result, many issues lie confused within

  • us. We feel angry but are not sure why.

  • Something is wrong with our job but we

  • can't pin it down. The thinking friend

  • holds us to the task. They ask gentle

  • but probing questions which act as a

  • mirror that assist us with the task of

  • knowing ourselves. One side effect of

  • getting a bit more precise about what

  • we're trying to do with our social lives,

  • is that we're likely to conclude that in

  • many cases, we're spending time with

  • people for no truly identifiable good

  • reason. These proto friends share none of

  • our professional ambitions or interests,

  • they aren't reassuring and may indeed be

  • secretly really very excited by the

  • possibility of failure. We can't be

  • catharticly silly around them and they

  • aren't the least bit interested in

  • furthering our or their path to self

  • knowledge. They are, like so many of the

  • people in our social lives, simply in our

  • orbit as a result of some unhappy

  • accident that we've been too sentimental

  • to correct. We should dare to be a little

  • ruthless in this area. Culling

  • acquaintances isn't a sign that we've

  • lost belief in friendship, it's evidence

  • that we're starting to get clearer and

  • therefore more demanding about what a

  • friendship could really be. In the best

  • way the price of knowing what friendship

  • is for may be a few more evenings at home

  • in our own company

friendship should be one of the high points of existence

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B1 friendship purpose task unfairly reassuring networking

The Purpose of Friendship

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    Jeremy posted on 2017/01/10
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