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.