Thursday, March 12, 2009

On Friendship: Can we have some categories please

Meredith at YPulse put up this post about friendship status on Facebook. She suggests that some "reverse mentoring" is needed for younger users to teach older users what it means to be friend. Her assertion that friend on Facebook roughly means "someone you know" and we still intuitively have categories of friendships. She writes about:
How in the same way there are people in your life you consider "bona fide BFFs" and others "you air kiss at a party once a year," on Facebook there are some friends you have a "Wall to Wall" conversation that runs on for multiple pages, others you post a message once a year on their birthday, and others still whom you forget were even born. In short, if you interpret "friends" as
Facebookspeak for "people you know," you can pretty much assign the same value system for friendships that you always have. Without cheapening the meaning.

She has a point. I hear moaning and gnashing of teeth about how social media are destroying our capacity to relate to one another. Meredith's point is that social media (at its best) simply extends what naturally happens. We all intuitively have a range of relationships: compadres, companions, and colleagues; mentors, proteges, and advisors; acquaintences, amigos, and intimates. We have confidantes and we have hangers on. All of these categories and more are under the rubric of "friend" in Facebook.

The problem of "friendaholism" is not that the technology cheapens our relationships. The problem is that of understanding the categories. Of course it would be unseemly to ask people to categorize types of frienships on a tool like Facebook; the question is do people have an understanding of different categories at all? I'm not convinced we do. A cursory scan of the shelf at my local Mega-Book-Mart reveals lots of books on "relationships" -- meaning romance, intimacy, and sexuality. There are shelves of books on working relationships and personality profiles. It's really hard, however, to find books on Friendship.

To offer a contrast, a quick look at Amazon reveals over 400,000 titles with friendship as the theme. The main themes in these titles tend to be 1) stories of great friendships 2) about the friendships of women 3) spiritual friendship. So clearly there's interest in understanding what friendship is and how it operates in our lives.

A look through my own library revealed some stuff. CS Lewis has some stuff on Friendship in The Four Loves. Of course Cicero has a definitive classical treatment on it. Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics speaks of it. Richard Baxter in A Christian Directory gives instructions about friendship.

But perhaps the best way to get into this is to ask my friends (no matter what category you place me in... acquaintence or compadre or... well you get the idea): how do we think about friendship?

Comment box is open.

Soli Deo Gloria