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Friendship and identity


Hello readers,

People, including me, are full of ideas, opinions, and after a few or several years of living on this planet, we use our personal experience, exposure to family, media, friends, and other other influences to construct a view of how we think the world should work and where we belong. One of my friends who is a therapist once told me that the deepest fear, in his experience, that most people share is the fear of not belonging.

To belong. Sometimes it feels like I need to let go of my opinions in order to maintain friendships. But really knowing people and caring for them with our hearts rather than judging with the mind is truly the best way to maintain friendships. In the modern world in which we live, judgment of self and others and creating a defined identity have become so much a part of our daily lives that we often forget that we are constantly judging and excluding others. We also constantly judge ourselves to see if we measure up with regards to physical attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, or other criteria.

When I  listen to the radio, read news articles or watch televised programs, I see how most of the violence between humans in the world is based on judgment of others based on identity. Hatred is usually born out of fear and out of not knowing. On NPR a few months ago, an older man of Greek origin who grew up in Turkey explained how his Turkish neighbor saved him and his family during an uprising in which all Greeks were being denounced and murdered. His neighbor did not hesitate to protect him, a young boy of nine at the time, because he knew him and his family and cared about them. But the same man also did not hesitate to denounce other families of Greek origin, because he did not know or care about them.

This story made an impression on me. It is clear that stopping and taking the time to know and care about others, to set aside our judgments and opinions is clearly the answer to reducing violence in the world. We simply are living too much from our minds, and we are allowing our opinions to create identities for ourselves which separate us from our fellow human beings.

Today, we celebrate LGBT rights, we cry out that black lives matter. In the Middle East, various ethnic groups and divisions within the Islamic faith hate one another and perpetrate unthinkably cruel acts of violence on other human beings around the world. How can we justify any of this division? Is some division positive and other negative? The truth is that everything we do contains its own shadow. There is no good without bad, no light without shadow. To me, the truth is that all lives do matter and do deserve to be appreciated. We have to start with our self. By proclaiming our identity on social media and needing others to recognize us, we forget that if we simply embrace and truly love our self with all of its shadows and contradictions, we will be best equipped for peace and for loving our neighbors and friends, as well as our enemies.

Why can’t we all see that we are all one? That our opinions are just that…opinions. We do all belong. Together. Being right is just not that important, but friendship and living with a loving heart are critical to the survival of our planet and of humanity itself.

I have noticed that one of my posts about friendship is among the most read posts on this blog.  We all need friends, and it is easy to feel alone in the highly technological landscape that allows us to pick and choose and avoid face to face contact with others.

Recently, my oldest friend and I experienced a strong difference of opinion over a phone call which caused him to hang up on me. We were talking about the videos which have been made by right-wing conservatives to try and discredit groups such as Planned Parenthood. The films claim that these agencies sell fetal tissue from abortions for profit. I personally do not believe that Planned Parenthood or other groups are guilty of these charges. I also do know that it is perfectly legal in the United States for all medical practitioners to sell or use for experimentation any tissue or bodily fluids or samples that are left by any patient at any medical facility. Lawmakers are currently re-examining some of these laws to try and update them to protect individuals who voluntarily undergo treatments for the purposes of scientific research. If you read the book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, by Rebecca Skoot,  you will learn a lot about the history of this subject and the experience of one African-American woman during the early 1930’s in Baltimore.

In any case, my friend and I both hold strong opinions about personal freedoms, abortion, and our political and spiritual positions diverge strongly. I do believe we both share the value that life is precious. We first met when I was 19 years old, in art school in Paris. We both come from families torn apart by codependent dysfunctional behaviors which caused our families to reject us, to leave us alone to survive in the world. There is a very strong emotional bond, despite our having very different personalities and life paths.

I was very sad about the disagreement with my friend. I did not feel offended that he hung up the phone on me, just surprised. I grieved for several days, fearing that this long and loving friendship might be lost forever. I usually avoided discussions of this kind with him, because I sort of knew that as a born-again Christian that he might differ from me on these types of subjects. Anyway, we exchanged some e-mails, and at first, I thought he no longer wanted to be my friend.  I told him and his partner that I do have several friends who are devoted Christians and whose political inclinations are diametrically opposite from my own. Because I care about them as human beings, I simply avoid topics that are too controversial. I have other friends with whom I can discuss those topics, and I don’t feel I am compromising my integrity or values to sustain these friendships. We both reached out to understand our differences, but also to shore up our love for one another and to preserve our friendship. It is my hope that the disagreement will strengthen the friendship and reinforce our love and respect for one another.

Basically, friendship is more important than being right. The heart is more powerful than the mind, despite what appearances might show. We live in a divided world today. My experiences with on-line dating have shown me how we can pick and choose to spend time with other human beings based on a set of likes and dislikes, and we can make instant judgments about which person is “right” or “not right” for us. I think we are deluding ourselves, and we are cheating ourselves out of a lot of really interesting, stimulating, and loving exchanges.

The truth is, we all have more in common than we are different. It is a natural biological drive to maintain loyalty to our group, to the people we know and to those we think we belong. Humans are tribal beings, traditionally speaking. We can evolve beyond that primitive stance by seeing that we are most often our own enemies, and those for whom we feel a strong dislike or even hatred is simply a reflection of our self, coming back to us. Our enemies are our teachers, and I feel we should be grateful to them for reflecting back to us the content of our own shadowy hearts. All of us are simply human beings, with joys, fears, hopes, desires, opinions, judgments, allegiances, ambitions. If I can embrace the ambivalence within myself and know that I am a living being full of contradictions, and still love myself…then I have a better chance of embracing others as they are, without judgment.

Love is the glue that holds all life together. We are all beings of light and shadow, living in a shadow box theater. We can take on roles and play them out in an endless Shakespearean drama, or we can each take a step back and watch the drama play out. We can stop identifying with those separate roles and, funnily enough, feel compassion and empathy for each one, including our self. Friendship is more important than identity.

My furnace /air conditioning repair and maintenance man is a Sikh. Every year or so, he comes to my house to clean out my heat pump, refill the Freon, and make sure everything is functioning properly. Then comes the good part. He comes into my kitchen with his dirty boots, and sits down with me for a cup of Yogi tea. We talk about life and spirituality for an hour or so.  He tells me that he does not watch the news. Life is exactly as it should be, he says. Just an illusion. Friendships are so very important. Don’t disagree with your friends, he tells me. Life is difficult, and we need each other.


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