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On Friendship (in the Digital Age)


Kahlil Gibran started On Friendship: Your friend is your needs answered.

He didn’t start with wants or desires, he started with needs.

To me, needs has always inferred that it surpasses creature comforts and narcissistic desires. It’s a quality that infers “like it or not, this is what is — and was — required for you”. Sure, sometimes those needs are precisely the sort of thing we like and love having; be it a feed to the ego, a moment where someone recognizes your accomplishments and sometimes even the kind of moments where you can laugh for hours and feel like minutes have just passed by. But at other times, such needs can also leave you uncomfortable, embarrassed, and even miffed/angry/impatient. Something said that break down the bloat of the ego, a scolding for one’s own wrong-doings and even having a deep, dark secret revealed when it shouldn’t have been (so quickly). Whatever it is your friend gives you — it is precisely given and positively required — yes — at the right place, and of course the right time.

He also goes on with the next vital element of friendship: Trust. Now trust is something I understand in spades as it is one of the elements in my life that I have been working on and refining from the blind trust I often gave as a child, to the tentative and often guarded trust I give in mid-life. Trust is about certainty of someone’s actions, the faith that a person will act both according to their nature along with the respect that comes with one’s own boundaries. It’s the confidence that comes with a glint of pride that comes with understanding the person that you label as friend will be able to both enhance and enrich the better qualities in self (as well as themselves) as well as expand the boundaries of understanding in both ourselves and the world around us.

Trust is the vital element of two of the most important relationships in our lives: friends and partner. For without trust, neither of these relationships will last that long.

Kahlil Gibran begins finishing up by saying something that has left a deep impact in me since I first read it in Junior High School: For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live.

That has always left a deep impact on me. First as odd in the way that he had used those words (and mostly because hours to kill has always been so alien to me), but later on in full understanding of what he was implying. A friend is never someone that you should just pass the time with. Fill a need for a moment between one event in one’s life and the next. And most importantly, pass the time with when one is bored. A friend is someone that you spend time with because you like their company both the facets of their personality as well as their flaws. For their wit as well as their candor. Put quite simply for their presence. For the very qualities that bring out the best in oneself as well as draw attention to those very qualities in ourselves we refuse to want to look at. Not to just pass the time, but to also walk along the path from cradle to grave and help us see more than just what’s on our path but theirs as well.

So as succinctly as I’m capable of producing, this draws the basic (and not so basic) framework of friend — and most importantly — what I label as friend.

Where I’m going with this? Well, here it is…

Recently I’ve seen one friend of mine remind people in her friends list post the correct way of behaving in any of the posts that she’s sharing. In a nutshell telling them to “behave or else be removed…” I have another friend ignoring advice because they are “comfortable with what they know” and not realizing the level of their depression far exceeds the boundaries of the causes. And finally I have one friend that deleted a post because it (my posting) wasn’t “positive enough…” to what he shared and said it was deleted because, “he was tired… and didn’t want to respond to it…”

And I ask this question: Is this friendship? Is this truly how you treat your friends and how you want your friends treat you?

There really shouldn’t be a difference between who we call friends in real life and who we call friends online. We homo sapiens often forget this when we go online and into social websites because of our wants to having as many people from all over the world reach out to us to feed us against our loneliness. We desire to have the vanity in us fed by thinking of these “friends” as a big number that defines and refines our popularity. And I’ve seen in my wanderings, sometimes — just sometimes — we want positive and negative discourse between everyone on our friends list to reinforce our want to reinforcing our sense of “sensibility”.

Such big social websites like Google+, Deviant Art and especially Facebook definitely bring out the worse possible parts of our ego and our vanity (and I’m only naming the ones that I’m part of, as I know of so many others that I’ve been a part of and since left) in that not only can we make friends with people out of our past, but also people with people we have passing fancies with. A Band? A DJ? Characters on a show? Actors? YouTubers? Artists? A product that you eat and/or drink? Like and things about them will show up in your feeds & timeline. Follow and you’ll get that and sometimes more. It quickly takes what we look forward to reading into the ADD/ADHD Paradise akin to the motto: “…Instantaneous gratification takes too long…

It’s because of this vicious cycle (for lack of better words) we often forget what it is to actually have friends. We take advantage of what it is to be friends with someone. Sometimes we even treat friends as though they’re just strangers that we merely tolerate.

Is this what friendship has been boiled down both online and off?

The optimist in me thinks not — we have made friends that we truly love, cherish, adore and respect. We look forward to what they say when they say it: regardless of it being a deluge of a million different comments bordering anywhere between the pedantic or the common or just one or two that are well placed smarmy and creative. The realist in me sees isn’t quite so… positive. It sees this as a trend happening more and more; from young and old alike. And the pessimist? Well my pessimism sees it’s high time to call attention to bad trend and break the thoughtform that has been created.

If you have to tell your friends to behave or you’ll delete them from your friends list. If you have to draw boundaries and ignore your friends because they make you uncomfortable. If you have to delete their comments because you didn’t like what they had to say. They’re not really friends. You don’t really know them. You didn’t take the time to get to know them for better or for worse. You don’t show them respect (and they don’t show you the same) and you keep them on for vanity’s sake.

What’s the point of saying you have 500 friends online if you don’t really look forward to what anything (and everything) 490 of them have to say in your time to live?

Why do we have to chastise friends in a public setting online, when we do so in private away from the crowds in a public setting in real life? Is ignoring them when they say something that makes us uncomfortable yet saying you “love them” really love? We cannot take back what’s said in real life, as there’s no rewind buttons (or even a pause button), why do we think we should do the same online when we edit and/or delete a friends’ post?

This is a dichotomy in its worst form and it needs to stop. It’s been created from a schism talked about in public (news and various shows since the popularity of the Internet in mid 1990s about the toxicity of people online) and continues to grow because of the path resistance in maintaining a habit is easier than breaking it.

It’s a habit that needs to be broken.

How do you break it? Well, let’s start with part of my personal anthem as sung by the Flirtations. As they sing in the chorus:

You can live by yourself… You can gather friends around… You can choose one special one… And the only measure of your words and your deeds… Will be the love you leave behind when you’re gone.

Remember what Gibran said in The Prophet On Friendship and even On Reason and Passion.

And finally this might come off as harsh, but the realist in us all knows this to be truth. If you have them around just for the sake of it. If You have them around because they’re a number and not a person. If you have them around to feed the vanity of popularity and having the adulation of like-minded followers. If you have them around only for the fair weather (or the foul as some folk come together as friends for massive whingefests). Perhaps it’s time to move on (unfriend/unfollow/whatever they call it on the site du jour).

After all, we do this offline (e.g., in real life) all the time. We make acquaintances, that become friends that become best friends… Or we have a difference, a tiff, a rift that causes us to break a friendship. We even drift away and apart because life leads us one way and them in another.

We shouldn’t hoard these “friends” online… Like a number. Like a merit badge. Like sheep to become a herd.

That fact is at the time of this posting, in the three examples of friends that I used as example, I’ve removed one of these three already. The second will be soon (admittedly I’m making sure I’m not acting in anger or hurt, but in love and understanding). And the third? I know that friend will do the right thing like they always do and will remove the chaff from the kernel; I just need to bide my time until sanity and compassion reign. And contrary to some of my history — I am a patient man.

Until the next time…

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