Has friendship become an empty and flat concept? This is the opinion of Univers editor Anne Grefkens: “By calling each other ‘friends’ all the time, the concept is subject to equalization”. This year’s Philosophy Month focuses on Intimate Strangers. A striking reason to put his search for the meaning of friendship on paper.
Until recently, I celebrated Kongenat every year with a group of friends in the center of Tilburg. The anticipation for the annual festival always started weeks in advance. New garments were purchased early, beverages were stocked on time, and the name of the group app was inevitably changed to the name of our king. This year I am celebrating Kongenat with other friends. The reason?
My last royal night with this group of friends ended in deception. A situation arose where a friend got into a fight with a young man, someone who had previously caused her a lot of grief. Without thinking, I jumped in the breach for her. I went to the young man and asked him if he had all five in a row. After lecturing him, I was taken aside by another friend: “Anne, stop it! It’s King’s Eve, would we not have a good time tonight? “A little surprised, I replied that I thought my loyalty to her was more important than ‘a nice evening’ because we are friends, are we not?
There I stood angry and annoyed with a beer in hand between the bouncing Tilburg youths. This evening, however, still took a very positive turn. The friend I had stood up for appreciated my efforts to defend her. Together we turned our backs on the festivities and when we got home we exchanged the beer for red wine. It turned out to be one of the most fruitful evenings ever. Our Kongenat became a search for the meaning of friendship. “What does friendship mean to you?” she asked me. “Unconditional loyalty,” I replied. “And for you?” I asked. “Unconditional loyalty,” she replied.
No doubt we agreed: friendship is about loyalty. I love nothing more than going through fire for each other, even when it gets tough. But I am increasingly wondering if there is still room for such a friendship in today’s society. To what extent does the swipe culture, where everything should always be ‘fun’, affect such a friendship? In my opinion, friendships are becoming more and more superficial because of this. For many people, friendship should above all be a ‘fun experience’, such as a day trip to Efteling. And does the friendship end? Well yes, then you review your Instagram ‘friends list’ again. Who wants to go to the museum next week?
The Dutch word friend comes from ‘vrijen’ (to love) and finds synonyms in the words comrade, dear friend and blood relative. The concept of loyalty is thus already implicit in the word. A notion that has been lost in recent years because the concept of ‘friendship’ is subject to equalization. Because people constantly call each other ‘friends’, it has become an empty and flat concept.
How often do you hear people say a variant of the following statement: “I met a girl at a party last week and I immediately felt a special ‘friendly’ bond with her”, “You still need a headset? I know a ‘friend’ who trades in telephone accessories “and” I invited at least a hundred ‘friends’ to our wedding “.
Different Kinds of Friendship
In any case, the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) would have been glad that he was not born at this time. He detested the so-called polyfili (many friends) and stated that “one with many friends, has no friends”. Philosopher and author Lammert Kamphuis also notes in his book Philosophy for an unparalleled life that a thorough process of unfriendliness would not be out of place for modern man.
In his great work Ethics Aristotle distinguished between three kinds of friendships. First of all, he describes friendships that are mainly aimed at mutual benefit. Examples of this are friendships between colleagues or fellow students. The moment the ‘usefulness’ disappears, the friendship disappears. In addition, he characterizes another type of friendship that focuses on the pleasant. These can be people that you, for example, go out on an evening with or visit a concert with. When there is no more time or space to carry out these joint activities, the friendship also bleeds to death.
Finally, Aristotle defines a third form of friendship that clearly transcends the other forms. This is aimed at the good and is mainly based on enjoying each other’s character. According to Aristotle, this third form of friendship can never be mentioned in the same breath as polyphilia. A true friendship where people enjoy each other’s character is, according to him, so rare that an individual can have very few such friendships.
In my opinion, Aristotle hits the figurative nail on the head with this. A society subject to a swipe culture suffers from polyphilia. Because of this – for me – the most desirable form of friendship is lost.
Since that King’s Day, I have increasingly placed my acquaintances in the boxes that Aristotle has given his readers. This subdivision has a positive effect on my peace of mind because it fits my expectations within a friendship. I have many friends that I like to have a drink with, go to the gym or have a philosophical conversation with. I love them all equally and wish them all the best. But their real feelings, desires, insecurities and dreams are unknown to me.
To me, it does not feel like a loss, but like a logical consequence of the kind of relationship I have with them. I do not expect them to be there for me day and night, and conversely, I do not feel compelled to regularly check how they are doing. It is impossible to maintain a deep and intense relationship with all your friends. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that these friends (as funny as they are) are interchangeable. They come and go, and without too much emotion, we sometimes say goodbye to each other. So in a way, I’ve also partly fallen victim to the swipe culture.
Partly because I can consider myself lucky that there are also quite a few people in my life that I can place on Aristotle’s third row. When I talk about them, I rarely refer to my ‘friends’. That’s because I deliberately do not want to shorten them. They are my closest friends and relatives. It feels like we are cut from the same cloth and therefore always understand each other.
The friendship I have built with them has not manifested itself in a year, and that is what makes it last. In the words of author Connie Palmen, the bond between us is so strong and symbiotic that it would be devastating to let go. The memories, the similarities and ‘enjoying each other’s character make us unconditionally loyal to each other. Aristotle was right, for it is a rare luck.
Orange above, but …
I have come to value quality over quantity and will be celebrating Kongenat this year with a smaller group of people than before. I would therefore like to end with a modest appeal to my fellow human beings. Take a critical look at your group of friends from time to time. Who is really going through the fire for you? Who can you call day and night, and who actually shows up? Who would line up for you in a quarrel and prefer your peace of mind over a ‘cozy congenital’?
In short: who is unconditionally loyal? These are the people who belong to your third row because they work for you. You can go the extra mile for them. Their character makes red wine taste a little better than a beer for an annual party. Orange over, but a bosom friendship above all.