Friends, Belief, and Faith

Friends are useful for multiple reasons.  They’re great for reflecting back to you what image you project to the world, for giving you as much shit as they can inspiration, introducing you to new experiences.  Friends provide you so much to help enrich your life.  They truly are part of how a human flourishes and human flourishing is an idea that I’ve always thought had real merit to it.[1]  We should improve as we grow to become the maximal selves possible.  How that gets accomplished may differ from person to person, but clearly one of the best methods of self-actualization and self-maximization comes through our social interactions.  Put simply, being social with your friends well help you become the best self possible.[2]

I want to focus more on what friends provide us and what we can provide our friends within this framework of friendship improving people, and that’s belief in one another.  Belief has been considered frighteningly powerful when exercised in the service of a greater good.  Belief needs some grounding, and one possible grounding is in faith, e.g.,  “Because I have faith in my friend, I believe in my friend.”  But that sentence really doesn’t tell us much other than I believe in my friend therefore I believe in my friend.  So perhaps grounding belief in faith won’t get us far, as the distinction between faith and mere belief should be a harder line.[3]  That said, in terms of friendship and social relations, perhaps faith is a type of belief that we hold for our friends.  For example, when we say, “I have faith in Joe, he’ll pull through,” we’re not saying anything vastly different from, “I believe in Joe, he’ll pull through.”  If faith can be described as an unwavering, steady belief in a person, place, thing, or institution, then maybe I had it wrong – perhaps belief grounds faith.  But what does this have to do with your faith or belief in one’s friends (and the faith or belief your friends have in you)?  Perhaps a quick story can elucidate this.

Playing video games against people provides a chance to compete, talk shit, and demonstrate the kind of ruthless aggression that should be reserved for a fight or a battle of some kind, then the game is over and it’s all done.[4]  I don’t know when video games, with the exemplars being Madden and currently the NBA 2K series, became such a part of male (and more and more female) competitiveness.  Even guys that don’t play them often still feel the urge not to lose – nobody wants to be bested in a one-on-one situation, even if it’s meaningless.  With that backdrop, a few weeks ago a buddy of mine, B, came through and one of the things we tend to do is battle, as competition just brings out a different part of people and friendly competition is the same way.  So like normal, we got geared up to go to war and it’s intense because we’re rivals and we like to play fighting games of all kinds – boxing, MMA, wrestling, Street Fighter.  My brother once quipped, “Watching two people play a wrestling game is better than watching the stuff on TV – each time y’all punch or reverse, it’s like you actually did it!”  But this would be a different day than most, as my roommate came out to join in the competition, challenging my buddy to a game of NBA 2K13.  My roommate and I have been in an ongoing (one-sided) battle surrounding 2K13, and as I was about to walk Blaze for a moment, I thought this would be an even matchup (my roommate may be loath to admit it, but right now and for the foreseeable future, he’s not beating me).  And amidst the normal banter and shit talking (“I’m gonna yam on ya bitch ass!”  “Get that shit the fuck outta here!!”  “COOKIES!!!”), I told my buddy, “I believe in you, B.  Kick his ass.”  Did I really believe in B?  Not really.  I thought my roommate was going to dust him by 20, mostly because I wasn’t sure how much B had played 2K13 and, like in many things, experience can be an invaluable strength in competition.  But I more so wanted to stick it to my roommate by explicitly expressing that my belief, my faith in B’s abilities were greater than my faith in his, if only to rock his confidence and take him off of his mental game.[5]

I returned from the dog walk to see the finish to an exciting contest, which ended when B pulled away in the 4th quarter.  Like the hype man I am, I turned on the shit talking for a few moments as my dejected roommate soaked in the reality that he’d lost to the unknown challenger.  Then B said, “Man, when you said you believed in me…it really changed how I came at the game.  It was like, ‘Shit, if he believes in me, I believe in me too!”  He looked over and asked me if I did think he was going to win, to which I responded,

“Hell naw.  That was a hell of a win.”

So what’s the connection here?  The placebo effect can be demonstrated even in events like video game competition, but was me telling B that I believed in him (even though I really didn’t) and him believing my belief in him to be true similar to a placebo, or is this a different sort of effect that people can have on other people?  We are social creatures in such a way that I think there’s a convincing case to be made that what happened, beyond the potentially fluke victory,[6] was a result of a particular effect people can have on each other.  Maybe it’s the context that people provide with their beliefs in others – B knew I believed in him and COULD have believed otherwise, namely in my roommate (or neither of them if I thought it was going to be a crappy game).  That my belief in him was my choice (or, perhaps, that B thinks it was) and B’s recognition of my belief in him could play a role in that effect that people have on each other.

But it’s worth wondering, why do we believe in people?[7]

[1] Aristotle is the heavyweight who offers a concept of human flourishing as a good we ought to achieve.  One difficulty of this view is determining what it means to flourish.  Kant also corresponds with a maxim that if you have a talent, you ought to maximize it.

[2] Clearly, if you have friends that are convincing you to do things that are anathema to your constitution, then these aren’t the kinds of friends that will ultimately provide you with what you need to become the best self possible.  It also warrants asking about the nature of friendship if these are the people we’ve come to consider friends.

[3] I’d say that we do have a firm line between belief and faith, at least in definition.  But I don’t think we have it in terms of our normal parlance, particularly when talking about loved ones and friends.  Faith, in this sense, is not the sort of faith we think of as in faith in God, but it’s related.

[4] X-Box Killer from Boondocks is the exception, not the rule.

[5] Video game competition is largely mental.  With so many repetitions, you have a good idea of what inputs will deliver your desired outputs.  The difficulty is that people adjust their strategy depending on their mood.  Calm players stick with their strategies, emotional players feed off of their environment and MOODY players can be thrown off of their game by talking that shit.

 [6] Which it wasn’t – B’s won 2 of the 3 games they’ve played since.  But my roommate took the last two, so they are even competition.

[7] Like why do I believe Charles Barkley and Michael Wilbon were right in saying publicly their comments about Black people using the “n-word.”  It’ll be live tomorrow.  Or why I believe that Johnathan Martin’s treatment is another highlight of why sports is an appropriate arena for discussing race.  Or why I believe it was hilarious that a lineman and a ref got into last Sunday.  But those might be different kinds of belief, and that post is live later this week.