I spend a lot of time thinking about community, its organization, its structure, its resiliency and how to grow it. But, it came to my attention last night, I have not really organized my thoughts around a key component of community, friendship. Within the survival world there is the Rule of 3’s, which states that an individual, on average, has 3 minutes to live without air (1st aid), 3 hours to live without shelter (including fire), 3 days to live without water and 3 weeks to live without food. The idea is to help you prioritize your survival priorities. There is a final element many of us add, an individual has about 3 months to live without love (friendship, community, social interaction, etc). I believe this expresses very well the fact that, even the most reclusive of us requires human interaction at some level for psychological health.
So, what is friendship? The image that comes to my mind is a sliding scale. It seems many things are coming out that way for me lately. The military changed the way we look at conflict some time ago, moving from neat categories of conflict (peace, civil unrest, guerrilla war, open conflict) to a spectrum of conflict in which there could be both open conflict and civil unrest in the same theater. I think this is a better way to look at human interaction as well. Rather than “this is my best friend, and these are my good friends and these are my acquaintances and these are people I know of”, I believe, we exist along a sliding scale of friendship with everyone on the planet. Social media has led this transformation as has our gypsy society which has broken the traditional tribal and familial associations. Even in my grandfather’s time it was unusual for a family member to pick up and move far away from the family home place without some great need or opportunity. And even then, likely a whole section of the family moved and that became the new place they put down roots and expanded in.
Today, we move rapidly. I am about to make, in quick succession, my 8th-11th moves in the course of 14 years. Granted, the Army dictates that, but many others are finding in this increasingly service based and contract based society that the idea of settling into a community and a job for 30-40 years and then retiring there with a pension is dead as the President’s poll numbers.
So, where does that leave community, and with it friendship. Friendship requires, above all, a level of trust, usually gained through long experience. We learn who we can trust with our hopes and dreams and who will ridicule them, who will give sage advice and who will simply encourage us, no matter how hare-brained the idea. We learn who we can trust our secrets to and who simply mouths the words of friendship without taking any real interest in our hearts and stories. We learn who means us no harm, but who is so needy themselves that they cannot bear the mutual burdens of shared friendship.
It is essential to a community, whether accidental or intentional, that these types/grades/levels/whatever of friendship be well understood. That we be mature enough to set aside envy when two others in our group develop a special bond that excludes us (it is rarely deliberately). Rather than focus on what others have, we must seek to fully become what we are and to develop what we have been given (of what area of life is this not true?).
So, as a method of spurring my thoughts, I am going to define certain types of friendship with which I am aware. This list won’t be all inclusive, nor will it be entirely accurate in its definitions. I hope you will find it a good springboard for exploring this idea on your own.
Anam Cara: A friend, usually older and wiser, who you share deeply with and who you give authority to speak into your life. Someone who, if he says to you “I think you should think twice about this decision” causes you to actually think twice about the decision. Classically, this is also a one way relationship. Someone can Anam Cara you (like a mentor) and there will be mutual sharing (the elder will often learn astonishing things from the younger) but the relationship flows decidedly one way emotionally. It can be taxing for the Anam Cara to mentor a needy person and is not a relationship either should enter into lightly.
Hearty Fellow, Well-met: A good guy to burn some meat and drink adult beverages with in the backyard. Anyone whose general attributes you find agreeable to spend time with, though not necessarily someone you would go deeply with.
Bosom buddies: Deeper than the Hearty Fellow, someone you have shared some meaningful experiences with, though not someone you might share your deepest, darkest nature with.
Band of Brothers: You may not even like these people, nor be willing to associate with them outside the circumstances that forged you, but if they call many years later, you will be there to bail them out of jail. This kind of friendship springs from extreme circumstances. Typically thought of as the bond between fellow soldiers in war, it can occur between any group of people who experience an extreme situation together. War is one of the most extreme, and typically lasts a long time, resulting in many shared situations and deep sharing, simply from boredom.
Espousal: Your spouse doesn’t have to be your friend, in many cultures this would not ever be the case, but it can be the MOST rewarding and mutual form of friendship, given sufficient energy.
Nodding acquaintance: Those who you likely know their name. For many of us, our neighbors or those who attend our church.
Prayer Partner: Someone you trust deeply, but are not necessarily in an Anam Cara type relationship with. Can be an emotional peer.
Friendship is, I think, one of the prime components of community. It is the oil that lubricates all the many facets of interaction that occur on a daily basis and cements the bonds of trust within the community. Without friendship, and the ability for individuals to pass smoothly from one level of friendship to another without envy or restraint, a community will slowly or quickly grind to a halt.