Friendship: The Design and the Art of Creating Personal Relationships

FRIENDSHIP, which seems like such a simple concept when you’re browsing at the rack of Hallmark greeting cards in the drugstore, turned out to be problematical – but rewarding — when it was examined deeply, wittily, and movingly, at the monthly Socratic Conversation conducted by Ron Gross on Thursday, April 17th.

Each participant drafted a “Friendship Credo” – a one-paragraph declaration of what they mean by friendship. Among the affirmations were:

  • “I choose you as my friend because you bring out in me things I like about myself.”
  • “My life is more interesting because you are here.”
  • “I know you care and you know I do, even if we are separated by time and space.”

Then, the group discussed gender differences in friendship, the impact of social media (all those Facebook “Friends”), changes in friendships over the time and absence, friends vs. lovers and spouses, and whether friendship can/should benefit from artfulness and even GULP, Design! (see books below).

To sharpen our range of concepts and data, the group considered of the findings and insights in several important books in the field, including:

  • Friendship: An Expose by Joseph Epstein, former editor of The American Scholar (published by Phi Beta Kappa), which debunks the romantic notions of friendship;
  • Friends, for Life by Stephen Duck, a leading British scholar in the field which demonstrates the evidence-base for the health benefits of friendships; and
  • The Politics of Friendship by Jacques Derrida, a complex reflection on the challenging assertion attributed to Aristotle (but found nowhere in his writings): “Ah, my friend – there is no friend.”

The group also visited, via video, with the co-founders of The Lifeboat Project, a Brooklyn-based couple who are encouraging people to ‘re-invest in deep friendships’. They suggest that we each recruit a “lifeboat-full” of these kinds of authentic friends (i.e., 10-15 at the most), and take ten simple steps to deepen those relationships.

Summing up the Conversation, convenor Ron Gross noted that the group’s range of observations and experiences revealed both the immense promise and the disquieting problems with friendships today.“Never have we needed real friends more than in this era of connectedness-without-intimacy,” he suggested. “And we can be strengthened by sharing our experiences and our ideas. We can increase our mastery of the art and science of friendships.”

The next Socratic Conversation with Ron Gross will be on HOME: Sharing Our Quests to Find or Create the Places We Really Need, on Thursday, May 29th at 4 pm, at the Library.

Image: Yellow Roses, Japan (by Kangko from Nagasaki, Japan, on Wikipedia Commons)