There are many ways to relate to the world and its many planes, material and spiritual. The upheavals we are experiencing as a nation with regards to police brutality, racism, gay marriage are interesting to examine. More than one person has noted that forty or fifty years ago, neighbors knew one another by name, and that police officers maintained a personal relationship with the people living in the areas they patrolled. A personal relationship with others, with our world, is key to maintaining a compassionate outlook in life. It is so much easier to love and accept others when we know them on a personal level. Globalization is in part responsible for the depersonalization of our neighborhoods and the worlds we live in. As social animals, we need and crave connections with others, but it seems that today it is possible to have a large number of superficial “friendships” on social media, but it is much more challenging to find one real friend.
What qualities define a person as a friend, and what makes a friendship different than other types of relationships? I believe that each human being, each animal, each plant is a unique being. We all, at different levels, crave recognition, appreciation, love, and understanding. It is a gift that we are able, as humans, to give one another and to the world around us. Friendship is more than being “there” for those we care for. The presence of friendship requires a certain steadfastness and loyalty. Caring about someone also means growing with them, and being patient. Friendship is a process, and it is one that needs an investment of time, affection, and mindfulness.
While most Americans are trained by culture to focus on power, financial success, and the accumulation of material goods and achievements, friendship is something that exists beyond this level of living. The heart and soul of a person thrive in realms in which creativity, love, and thoughtfulness are considered primary values. In our heart of hearts, we don’t want to receive a gift card. We want someone to sit at a table in our kitchen or in a coffee shop with us. We want to be heard, and we want to listen. Passion and connection can exist in friendship as they can in romantic relationships. But who wants to devote that much time and energy to relationship today?
I feel that relationships have become objectified in America today. Everything is a product, a step towards obtaining some sort of perfection in achievement. I feel as if I cannot touch anyone or be touched. No one has time. We keep ourselves busy to numb the pain caused by the disconnection that our digitally connected world has created around us with our own permission. To be emotionally unavailable, a workaholic, wanting sex with no commitments or deepening of feelings…of what are these behaviors a symptom? Do they sound familiar to you? Relationships require vulnerability and humility. Sometimes it is hard to show others our fears and imperfections, because we are all trained to conceal the cracks behind a perfect veneer of total control. And yet, this edifice of total mastery is an illusion, an illusion that preserves our solitude.
I grew up in a codependent family, under the iron claw of my mother whose fear of life was terrifying. So terrifying that she could not bear for any of us to live our own lives, cherish desires or dreams of our own. She disowned me because I refused to be owned by her. I feel that codependency is rampant in America. It isn’t always easy to maintain good boundaries and take responsibility for oneself, one’s choices, one’s feelings and thoughts. But it is the only way to be truly free and respectful of self and others. I have worked really hard to understand my own life, my family, and why people behave the way they do. I had to find some way to deal with the solitude brought on by being rejected by my family. I had to find some way of bringing meaning to my own life.
I really do believe that we all collectively create and bring meaning to the world in which we live. Thinking about this process and being aware of what we do and what effect our behaviors have on the people around us is so important. Without this awareness, we have only pretense, or even worse, chaos.
It has been challenging for me to get close to other people because of the way my own birth family has treated me, but I make an effort to reach out to others. I am probably more reserved than many people. It has taken me many years to build up some level of self esteem and respect, as well as the ability to select those I wish to let into my inner circles. Not everyone is at the same spiritual and mental level. We attract into our personal sphere people who can hurt us as well as people who can teach or love us. Being a good friend is a creative process. Stepping away from the controlling impulse of perfectionism is, I believe, a step towards engaging fully with life. Embracing the possibility of both pain and joy. Friendship is a true delight – to know and be known, to see and be seen in all of our strengths and frailties. Friendship is an eternal demonstration of the power of human beings to embrace our vulnerability in the face of life and to demonstrate that we can truly accept ourselves and one another. Friendship also helps to restore hope and increases vitality. To feel fully alive is to feel creatively connected to others and to the world.