The One About Friends

Thanksgiving, and the resulting holiday season, are coming up sooner than we think.  Seeing as I’ll be going home soon, I wanted to take a moment and write on the importance of friendship.  It’s such a crucial form of interpersonal relation and yet it gets no love publicly.  We hear about romantic relationships, but who do you talk about those relationships with?  Perhaps a counselor or therapist, but more often than not you’re talking to people that you consider to be friends, or acquaintances of some sort.  Friendship is a basic aspect of  humanity, in my estimation, if humans are considered to be social creatures.

The common postulate is that “No man is an island,” a quick metaphor that reminds us of the importance of other people.  But certainly, not every person is important.  In fact, out of the billions of people on the planet, there are probably around 50 people who you immediately consider important in that you care about their well-being deeply.  Let’s be honest, barring obvious and public moments of human suffering (2010 Haitian earthquake, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and September 11th come to mind), we don’t care about most of the people on the planet in an active sense.  I think we have an implicit care for humanity insofar as we are members of the group, human.  This is just fine, but what about those few humans on the planet we do care for actively?  What about the important people in our lives?

Let’s try this out as an experiment.  Without consulting any outside sources (so no looking at your cell phone or a Facebook friend list or your Twitter friends), reel off the names of people who you consider to be your friends (or who are, at the very least, important to you).  If you’re a brave soul, please post in the comments the number of people you came up with off the top of your head.

This experiment will show us a few different things.  First, whoever you’ve listed, you should probably make sure to keep in touch with them (if you’re anything like I am, plenty of people on the list haven’t heard from you in far too long).  Second, I would contend that the people who come to mind immediately are those important people who matter in our lives.  While this is an obvious point, go back and cross-reference your list to those Facebook friend lists and your cell phone contacts and the like, and see who you omitted.  That provides our more salient point – that our concept of friendship is more than likely so open that we will forget more of our friends than we think.

While a resulting question from this claim is, “If we forget them, should we still consider them to be our friends?”, I’m more interested in what prompts us to claim them still as friends when we initially say, “Whoops, I forgot about Bobby.”  When we acknowledge their omission from our list, we claim them as friends (or at least, important people) that we meant to put on the list but didn’t for whatever reason.  Before we can ask the first question (Are they still our friend?), we have to figure out why we claimed Bobby as a friend to begin with.

Certainly, there could be a bunch of reasons that are particular to the individual situations that prompt an omission from our list.  But my general theory is that we have a lot more people that we consider as friends than we would think at first glance.  Some of us will have more stringent requirements for someone to be their friend, but even those with the toughest of requirements will more than likely have an omission or two (this is admittedly purely speculative).  Could we chalk it up to memory errors and plain ol’ forgetfulness?  To a certain extent, that will ring true.  There will be some extremely important people to us that we might plum forget, and that happens.  But when a person who we didn’t think of at all, like our poor friend Bobby, gets remembered and we say, “That’s right, Bobby is my friend too,” this is more than just memory error – I think we’ve got hidden friends; friends who we claim as friends passively.

Those people who we care about actively, like I said before, those are probably the people who get listed immediately.  It’s the hidden friend that reveals so much more about friendship, because these are the people who, upon reflection, have already been established as a friend, and receive the passive benefits of friendship, whatever those may be.  I believe we’ve all got a ton of hidden friends, and I believe this to be so based upon the “No man is an island” metaphor.

Like I said above, when we use the island metaphor, we’re not referring to the human community (at least, not when I hear it).  We refer to the community of important people to us with whom we are social, and hence, not a solo island floating in the water, but we’re one island inside of a connected island chain.  But there are a ton of underwater connectors (like the Chunnel) to other islands, hence the hidden friends idea.  Whether or not we are still traveling that Friend Chunnel doesn’t seem to matter as much as the fact that the Friend Chunnel exists, which is why we exclaim that Bobby is our friend even though we forgot about him.

So what do we do with our hidden friends?  Make them visible and not hidden?  For some of us, that’s what will happen – the hidden friend will be on the list next time because that friendship will be active and not passive.  For others of us, we might be more inclined to get back in touch with our hidden friends a little bit more because people fall out of touch sometimes and that just happens.

I didn’t have a big conclusion to all of this, except that I feel very fortunate to have some very close friends, some close friends, and friends in general.  Hopefully you do also.  Now then, let’s make sure to at least keep in touch with some of them a bit more than we have.

My Fear of Being A N*****

I’ve been recently doing work on the post-racial concept and my healthy skepticism about race in America kicked in (like it always does).  I can’t seem to shake a fear.  It festers in my soul, noticeably so as to gently remind me of its existence and simultaneously not irritating me.  I fear that no matter what I do, no matter what good I may ultimately bring this world…I’ll be viewed as a nigger and nothing more.

It makes me uncomfortable to have this feeling, and I often wonder if it’s an irrational fear.  I suppose that’s redundant, given that fears are generally irrational, but of the normal fears one could have, this one might well seem a bit crazy.  I mean people can get fears of heights because the view is overwhelming and so is the fall.  Folks are scared of water because it can kill them even if you know what you’re doing.  I’m scared of a certain animal because it can sneak up out of nowhere and some can kill you.  Those fears are generally rational, and based upon a belief that doom will befall them if they encounter whatever it is they fear.  But a fear that I’ll be viewed as a nigger?  That doesn’t involve causing physical harm to me, right?  It seems out of left field.  Just who is it that’s going to view me as a nigger?

Perhaps that’s the irrational aspect of this fear.  I don’t have a specific person in mind.  I think that one day, when I go to a philosophy conference and present, there will be some folks in the audience who think to themselves, “There goes that nigger.”  Maybe it’s an unfair belief to have, hence why it’s an irrational fear.  But I cannot shake this fear for the life of me.  I fear that even those white people I know view me as a nigger.  It’s crazy reading this as I write it, but this is a thought that I have.  I’ve got no way to verify if they do or don’t, and I have to tell myself that I have no reason to have this fear.  But the fear remains, popping up from time to time.  I don’t understand what precipitated this fear.  If I were to be Freudian about this, I should look at my childhood.  And an event that sticks out to me is the first time I heard a nigger joke.  Perhaps this was my experience that created this fear.

When I was in sixth grade, I was a popular boy in school.  I was the President of the School Store, was a mentor to some younger students, and all of the teachers loved me.  My peers were fond of me as well, and I had many friends, some of whom I keep in touch with still.  But I had one friend in particular who had been my buddy for a lot of my time in grade school.  I won’t use his real name, so let’s name him Billy.  Billy was a white guy and he was a little weird, but he was my friend.  We hung out a lot in the school, and we’d hang out on the weekends sometimes.  He was a very good friend.

I don’t remember the date exactly, but I do remember there was a soccer game going on.  I was hanging out with some friends of mine, chatting about whatever it is sixth graders chat about.  Someone, I don’t remember who, ran over to me and got my attention.  The person said, “Billy is telling racist jokes!”  I was hurt.  My good friend Billy?  I knew that racists exist, and that there were some white people not to be trusted, but Billy couldn’t have been one of them.  I didn’t believe the person, and said, “Alright, if he’s telling these jokes, I’ll go catch him in the act.”  I didn’t believe the person, but that’s a pretty serious allegation.  I needed to check to see if Billy’s name was being slandered, because that’d be a problem.  We walked over near where he and some other white guys were standing.  I took a wider angle and hid next to the bleachers, just within earshot but clearly out of sight.  I heard the group giggle, and then I heard Billy speak.

“Hahaha, you want to know the difference between a bucket of shit and a nigger?  The bucket.  Hahahahahaha!”

I was crushed.  His laughter infuriated me.  I jumped out from my hiding spot and surprised him and everyone else.  Billy looked embarrassed; he knew he’d been caught and that I had every right to be as pissed at him as I was.  He stammered a little bit, as I took strides towards him quickly.  I don’t remember what he said, and quite frankly I didn’t care what he was saying.  My friend betrayed me in such a terrible way.  I don’t remember what I was saying to him as I walked up to him.  It probably involved a few profanities and anger and disbelief.  I  marched right up to him and got right in his face.  He looked scared.  Somewhat defiant, but still scared.  He didn’t know what I was going to do, but I have a feeling he knew he deserved it.

I decked him.  Gave him a right hand right to his jaw and it knocked him down.  I walked away after that.  The matter was settled then.  No matter what harm my hand gave him, he wasn’t going to tell.  They’d ask me what happened, and I’d tell the joke I heard him say.  And those teachers loved me – they knew I wouldn’t make that up.  The kids knew this also.  I never spoke to Billy again after that.

Perhaps this event is what precipitated my fear.  That even a person who appeared to have a genuine interest in me as a person will still think of me as a nigger.  It makes the fight against being called a nigger seem so futile.  All of the work to say, “Hey!  You have no right to call me a nigger not only because it’s rude but it’s also an inaccurate description of me,” it seems so worthless.  Because there will still be so many people who still look at me like I’m a nigger.  I’m a PhD nigger.  I’m a well-spoken nigger.  I’m a creative nigger.  The list goes on and on.

I can always tell myself that this is an irrational fear.  Remind myself that those people who do view me as a nigger no matter what (this is all based, I suppose, on the assumption that one can change the minds of those who do view all Black people as niggers) don’t mind to begin with.

But I can’t shake this fear.