KD-ADS: Expanding Horizons

Cos thinking should never be stagnant...

Friday, December 23, 2005

Of Friends and Enemies

When I was a teenager, I refused to believe in the concept of "friendship". I was notorious around school for being that person who saw no value in being friends, and I subscribed to the psychological notion of 'egoistic hedonism', meaning that all acts, no matter how benevolent, stem from self-satisfaction, thus altruism is just a disguised form of mutual self-gratification. In any case, of course how time went by, these cold beliefs have worn out, and to a greater or lesser degree, I have started seeing and defining people in my social circle as more than just mere acquaintances, or classmates or colleagues. So I've come to recognise that certain people in my life do indeed deserve the title of being called a "friend".

Two recent events, however, have provoked me to think again.

The first event arose from my chance encounter with a group of classmates from my secondary school. Earlier my partner had met them, and gone out with them without my presence. When I was scheduled to pick up my partner who had separated from them, I coincidentally bumped into them. We had a brief chat; it's nothing to rave about but it was quaint and fine. However, when I met up with my partner later, she had a most upsetting and disappointing experience with them. Not only were they openly talking about their dislike of me, but they also expressed disbelief that someone would go out with me. Probably worse than imagining World War III.

Strictly speaking, these people aren't exactly "friends", since they never hung around with me, and were more just classmates. Nevertheless, I found the second situation to be just as unpleasant. Catching up with my friends from Melbourne who had studied with me, things have changed so much between us that I no longer recognise our "friendship", if there was one to begin with. It's a long story, so there's no need to elaborate, but suffice to say, ever since all of us have graduated, I could taste the bad blood that circulated between us. The silence hostility is not overt, and very subtle; in most cases, people (and probably them as well) would go to great lengths to deny the awkard atmosphere, or to pretend that 'things have not changed', but for those who wish to remain ignorant and bliss, friendship becomes an impoverished concept.

I have always been intrigued with this particular concept. Why do people wish to proclaim certain individuals as worthy of a special status? Do they somehow cross the threshold of ordinary human beings? Do they somehow carry traits that are either so utterly benign or unique which fits them so perfectly? And truly, why are people so skillful in putting up a front in front of their friends when at the instant that backs are turned, the gossiping and back-stabbing surfaces with gusto?

One of the most dismal and yet highly significant result from the first event was that my partner couldn't believe that ordinarily "nice" people could spit off venom with such velocity and precision, and not thinking twice about the consequences. It still fascinates me to this day that people love to employ the common label of "nice person" to give a fair and positive evaluation of an individual, to somehow signify him/her as a person worthy of being a friend. For a very long time, I realized that "nice"-ness makes up for nothing. The "nice" slave-owner, the "nice" Christian (but believes that non-believers will rot in hell), the "nice" politician who screams and advocates racist policies, the "nice" father who is a great pal but a wife-beater at home...no doubt, even great dictators like Stalin and Adolf were probably regarded as "nice" among their friends.

There is a degree of superficiality surrounding "nice", for it implicitly assumes that the person is also faithful, friendly, open-minded, and oozing with generosity. All too often, it also implies being skilled at hiding the negative affections and thoughts, and acting all positive in front of each other. So, given my outward brutal honesty, it doesn't surprise me that in lacking "nice"-ness, I get shoved aside. But leaving me aside, the question still remains: what is to be said of a friend? And what exactly (at least in my view) would friends truly treat and understand each other?

One could probably go and read up or research on this topic in a book for ages, but to me, there is one simple truism: that is an honest intent to understand and accept the person despite his/her "flaws". This is an incredible task, and hence I make no qualms by saying that due to the nature of such a endeavour, we should be cautious on how we accept people as friends, but more importantly, how we see ourselves in relation to them. Why is it so scary to openly admit "I don't make a good friend" if one can not bring him/herself to unequivocally accept the person as someone who can never accede to your every need or demand? Not every "friend" can have the same interests; not every "friend" can share your view; not every "friend" can help you through thick and thin; and not every "friend" can like you for who you are.

But acceptance is a difficult task. Acceptance is not just saying "oh, he/she is just like that" and then carry on denigrating the person for the scum that he/she is. Acceptance is also about being helpful to the person's troubles and problems, even if one is unable to solve them. Acceptance is about saying "you know, I don't know why you are like that but what the hell? It doesn't matter, I understand". Acceptance is such an easy word to throw around but nobody understands, because when it is truly recognised for what it means, we all come to recognise that nobody can fulfill this criteria so easily. And we can see that calling the relationship a "friendship" is just a facade as well.

With great irony, I do have one friend that I may lose soon. She has been most supportive to me, and she has been most understanding and accepting. Thats not to say that she is never judgmental, or that she is flawless, however she and I have come a long way in accepting each other. That long journey was never measured by time; it matters not that some people have been my "friends" for years, while she only knew me for less, it also is not measured by gifts or the number of outings, or the number of shared interests; instead that friendship (with no inverted commas) was built based on a strong foundation of trust, solidarity, determination (to go through great difficulties), frustration, and acceptance no less.