News

Faux Friendship

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | November 26, 2011

"What is a friend? A single soul in two bodies."
Aristotle

"We live at a time when friendship has become both all and nothing at all." With those words William Deresiewicz began an oral commentary on New Hampshire Public Radio's Word of Mouthtitled "Faux Friendship." 

Expressing concern about the potential of hundreds and even thousands of virtual friends on places like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc., Deresiewicz said, "...Once we decided to become friends with everyone, we would forget how to be friends with anyone. We may pride ourselves today on our aptitude for friendships - friends, after all, are the only people we have left - but it's not clear that we still even know what it means." 

Deresiewicz references that the idea of friendship in ancient times was far from ordinary and universal but "Rare, precious, and hard won." It was indeed a "High calling, demanding extraordinary qualities of character - rooted in virtue - and dedicated to the pursuit of goodness and truth." 

In modern times friendship takes on a very different meaning. Modernity believes in individualism, choice, self-expression, freedom with an endless play of possibility. As a result, friendships are egalitarian, often serving no public purpose, are elective with no fixed commitments. The author says, "We can be friends with whomever we want, for as long as we want." 

And yet these three letters "bff" (best friends forever) has become a reference which makes us smile rather than commit to something lasting. "The image of the one true friend, a soul mate rare to find but dearly beloved, has completely disappeared from our culture," Deresiewicz opines. "We are busy people; we want our friendships fun and friction-free." 

He returns to Facebook. "...The friendship circle has expanded to engulf the whole of the social world, and in so doing, destroyed both its own nature and that of the individual friendship itself. Facebook's very premise - and promise - is that it makes our friendship circles visible. There they are, my friends, all in the same place. Except, of course, they're not in the same place, or, rather they're not my friends. They're simulacra of my friends, little dehydrated packets of images and information, no more my friends than a set of baseball cards is the New York Mets." 

When I first read these words they really made me think. I thought about my own Facebook friends. Sure, some of them may fit this description of people I hardly know and only now occasionally interact with. I would still call them my friends, but not the kind whom I might call at 2:00 AM if my car ran out of gas. 

But my Facebook friend list does include a host of people like that. People who have that "Whatever I can ever do to help you, please let me know" kind of friendship. Those friends are not what Deresiewicz calls "...An indiscriminate mass, a kind of audience or faceless public." Or to use his words "faux friendship." 

So what is a true friend? Donna Roberts said, "A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words." Or as Len Wein describes, "A friend is someone who is there for you when he'd rather be anywhere else." I also like Walt Whitman's humility who said, "I no doubt deserved my enemies, but I don't believe I deserved my friends." 

Because of technology we have countless ways to connect with people. I think of these tools as ways to contribute to the process of becoming and being a friend but never as a substitute for the real thing. None of us want to consider an acquaintance as a real friend. Everyone will take "real friendship" over "faux friendship" any day. 

As someone said, "If all my friends were to jump off a bridge, I wouldn't jump with them, I'd be at the bottom to catch them." 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu