Defining Frienship

This post is my attempt to retain and respond to C.S. Lewis’ chapter Friendship in his book The Four Loves

Friendship, that mysteriously unnecessary love, bears great resemblance to art or literature, according to Lewis, in that it is not necessary to our survival but it makes surviving worthwhile.

Friendship differs from companionship. Companionship arises from being thrown together in a workplace, family or in our studies. In our hunter-gatherer days, companionship was necessary to band together as a pack and get things accomplished. This is still the case today. We must be, at some level, of the same mind as the people we are working with, working towards a common goal on a team to meet the bottom line or get a project finished. However, companionship is brought to the level of friendship, when, according to Lewis,

two or more of the companions discover that they have some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’

Lewis talks about the benefits of friendship. A friendship doesn’t form based upon common race or family situation or profession. These things fall into place as friends get to know each other. However, friends are on a common quest for truth and they get to know each other through these interests that they share.

There can also be a great amount of humility that comes out of a friendship. Lewis says, “In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters.” In addition to this, a true group of friends all bring out the best in each other when they are all there. Sometimes friends are not complete in just a group of two, they need others to bring each others’ best qualities fully out. This symbiotic relationship between friends is breathtaking and humbling. What a blessing to have friends like these! We can never deserve a gift like this!

Lewis also warns about the darker sides of friendships. Just as friendships can be based upon something positive or productive, so can they be based on a mutual hatred or grievance. Even in good friendships, writes Lewis, “the transition from individual humility to corporate pride is very easy.” It is short jump to go from feeling honored to being a part of a group full of funny, intelligent, loving friends to feeling as though you all are superior and delighting in being known by the “best” of people. While friendship must exclude in some sense (you cannot have an intimate relationship with someone if you are always forced to meet with them with 30 other people), friendships based upon exclusivity are shallow because there is nothing deeper shared but the form of the friendship itself. It defines itself in a negative space, who cannot be let in, and therefore limits itself greatly.

Lastly, Lewis highlights the Christian perspective on friendship as he closes the chapter, pointing out:

The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others.

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