I've been thinking about friendship lately. Especially since the possibility of friendships has both expanded exponentially as well as changed dramatically as a result of instantaneous communication via the worldwide web.
Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, blogging, email and other forms of social networking have created the largest pool of personal contacts from which friends can be made in all of human history. I have heard or read people say, "I have 600 friends on Facebook," like they were collecting merit badges to put on display.
Some people claim to have thousands of "friends." THOUSANDS OF FRIENDS! I get exhausted just thinking about it. I wonder if that is even possible, and then I realize: "Duh! We obviously have different conceptions of friends and friendship."
I read somewhere once something J. R. R. Tolkien said about friendship and I have a close affinity with his view. Friendship is not a term fitting for someone you recently met. That is a "recent acquaintance," though of course friendship can develop, perhaps quickly, from that initial meeting. Nor is friendship automatically applicable to someone you have "known" for a long time. That is simply a long time acquaintance. I have had dozens of colleagues over the years that I have been teaching, and some of them are wonderful human beings. But the people I count as friends are far fewer in number.
Tolkein said something like this (and I am paraphrasing): a friend is someone who SEES YOU. Or to put it another way, a friend is someone who SEES WHAT YOU SEE. They may not agree with every thing you see. But they see it; they see you; they "get" you. And of course -- and this is critical -- a friend is someone who will "stand with you" come what may.
Based on scene from LOTR animated film,
Ralph Bakshi, Dir. 1978.
This SEEING and STANDING aspect is what I call "Tolkein Friendship," and it is clearly depicted in the myth-master's magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings.
This statement by Frodo's friend Merry Brandybuck (speaking also for the other friends Sam Gamgee and Pippin Took) reveals that friends are people that have loyalty to each other, but (and this is important) "without subservience," as one author put it.
(Have you ever known a person who calls you their "friend," but only on their terms, only based on your subservience to them in some way? Friends they most decidedly are not!)
Friends are, without equivocation, equals and responsible to each other.
So the person who says that he/she has thousands of friends on the web cannot possibly mean it in the same way that these four hobbits meant it. For a friend is someone who becomes nothing less than family, indeed, sometimes closer than individual blood relatives. Sometimes disagreeing with them. Sometimes frustrated, even mad at them. Sometimes separated by time and great distance. But ever attached by the bonds of affection, regard, respect, concern and good will.
It is this Tolkein Friendship that is a major theme running throughout the LOTR trilogy, and The Hobbit before that. It is Tolkein Friendship that helps to supply the bearer of the One Ring what he needs, what he does not have by himself, for his epic journey.
I have read some writers who think that the development of internet social networks has created a culture in which millions of people are constantly in contact with everybody and know nobody.
While I think this is certainly true for some. It is definitely not true for everyone. Anita and I have made what we feel are nascent and nurturing friendships in bloglandia. Some of you are "blood" family who are also dearest friends.
Others are people we have come to know through many blog correspondences, comments, team story telling and a general sharing of silliness. A few of you we have actually had visits with face to face. Others of you we dream of meeting some day, even if we have to fly half way around the world to do it.
And so, to all of you whom we have enjoyed so much in our journey through bloglandia:
In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.
— John Churton Collins
No one ever won an argument that lost a friend.
No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are throughout persuaded of each other's worth.
— Robert Southey
No miles of any measurement can separate your soul from mine.
— John Muir