May 19, 2017
“Friendship is unnecessary,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… it has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Darwinian caveats aside, the truth of this beautiful sentiment resonates deeply for anyone whose life has been enriched or even saved by the existence of a genuine friend. And yet today, as we face the commodification of the word “friend,” what do we even mean — what should we mean — by this once-sacred term, now vacated of meaning by chronic misuse?
Eighteen centuries before Emerson wrote in his meditation on the two pillars of friendship that “a friend is a person with whom [one] may be sincere,” Seneca considers the uses and misuses of the term in a magnificent letter titled “On True and False Friendship”:
If you consider any man a friend whom you do not trust as you trust yourself, you are mightily mistaken and you do not sufficiently understand what true friendship means… When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment. Those persons indeed put last first and confound their duties, who … judge a man after they have made him their friend, instead of making him their friend after they have judged him. Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul. Speak as boldly with him as with yourself… Regard him as loyal and you will make him loyal.
In another letter, titled “On Philosophy and Friendship,” Seneca examines the common bases upon which friendships are formed and admonishes against the tendency, particularly common today, toward seeing others as utilitarian tools that help advance one’s personal goals. Observing that some people form so-called friendships by estimating how much a potential friend can help them in a moment of need, he writes:
He who regards himself only, and enters upon friendships for this reason, reckons wrongly. The end will be like the beginning: he has made friends with one who might assist him out of bondage; at the first rattle of the chain such a friend will desert him. These are the so-called “fair-weather” friendships; one who is chosen for the sake of utility will be satisfactory only so long as he is useful. Hence prosperous men are blockaded by troops of friends; but those who have failed stand amid vast loneliness their friends fleeing from the very crisis which is to test their worth. Hence, also, we notice those many shameful cases of persons who, through fear, desert or betray. The beginning and the end cannot but harmonize. He who begins to be your friend because it pays will also cease because it pays. A man will be attracted by some reward offered in exchange for his friendship, if he be attracted by aught in friendship other than friendship itself.
With an eye to such arrangements of convenience and favor, which he condemns as “a bargain and not a friendship,” Seneca adds:
One who seeks friendship for favourable occasions, strips it of all its nobility.
In another letter, Seneca cautions against mistaking flattery for friendship — an admonition all the more urgent today, in the Age of Likes, when the forms of flattery and the channels of positive reinforcement have proliferated to a disorienting degree:
How closely flattery resembles friendship! It not only apes friendship, but outdoes it, passing it in the race; with wide-open and indulgent ears it is welcomed and sinks to the depths of the heart, and it is pleasing precisely wherein it does harm.
He turns the beam of his wisdom toward the only valid and noble reason for forming a friendship:
For what purpose, then, do I make a man my friend? In order to have someone for whom I may die, whom I may follow into exile, against whose death I may stake my own life, and pay the pledge, too.
In another letter, Seneca suggests that such genuine friendship extends its rewards beyond the personal realm and becomes the civilizational glue that holds humanity together:
Friendship produces between us a partnership in all our interests. There is no such thing as good or bad fortune for the individual; we live in common. And no one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbour, if you would live for yourself. This fellowship, maintained with scrupulous care, which makes us mingle as men with our fellow-men and holds that the human race have certain rights in common, is also of great help in cherishing the more intimate fellowship which is based on friendship… For he that has much in common with a fellow-man will have all things in common with a friend.
“The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”
It certainly seems these days that not a moment goes by without someone having some sort of disagreement. Not that people should always agree about everything, that’s not the point. Disagreements come in all shapes and forms, just like people do. With that said, it seems like a lot of the disagreements that abound nowadays regard a certain section of the populace’s ceaseless push to inculcate their beliefs on others, regardless of the consequences.
There seems to be two prevailing schools of thought out there regarding how to handle these situations. When aiding others in their search for truth, the initial school of thought [non-conformists] doesn’t mind when other individuals ask them questions about beliefs and ideas discussed. The second group [conformists] takes downright offense to anyone questioning them on anything. The former seeks to help the individual arrive at their own truth; the latter seeks to be the high priest, just like those of ancient times, who controlled the free flow of certain information.
This particular trend of individuals not wanting to be questioned seems to be growing in quite a few circles.Individuals who do wish to carry out further inquiry to seek firmer ground have nigh no options when speaking to closed-minded conformists because ultimately with a conformist, it’s their way or the highway.Ironically, what is happening to those who seek firmer ground is not unlike what happened to the “Father of Philosophy,” Socrates, over two millennia ago.
Socrates was feared because he wasn’t afraid of questioning an individual’s beliefs about any given subject, similar to individuals today who question the official narrative on myriad issues. In parallel fashion to modern conformists, in Socrates’ time the ultimate conformists of the time – as with much of history – was the state. This see saw bout of ideals that took place back then still takes place now as we can see. For all intents and purposes, because of his very ideals, Socrates is the Godfather of Non-conformity. Socrates is the living definition of a question mark.
With the Socratic Method – of querying deeply into the subject – Socrates would begin to dissect an individual’s paradigm and those inherent flaws if any, usually in the realms of justice and goodness. Because of Socrates’ method, many times the paradigms individuals had – inculcated by the state and by religion – would drastically shift or disintegrate altogether, and begin something anew. This lead the state to lash out against him for questioning the system, particularly the “might makes right” the state was notorious known for, and eventually got him executed.
The state feared that the changes Socrates’ was bringing about in the populace would continue to spread, and from their tyrannical point of view they could not allow that. Thankfully though, most of what he was able to accomplish still echoes to this day – even to this very post, thousands of years later.
In similar fashion, nowadays, people who push conformity are doing themselves and the other individuals a great disservice. This is because individuals pushing conformity are:  not being open minded, thus  not allowing themselves to grow by being able to see another individual’s point of view, whether it is true or not. Further, by attempting to force conformity on others they are  taking away a terrific learning opportunity from individuals truly seeking answers to poignant questions, and  in the worst case, these conformists are even losing relationships because of fear of the ego being overridden, as well as their beliefs possibly being shown to be made of hot air. All of this stands against the very nature of free-flowing inquiry.
Keen conversations of proactive mental discernment should have a certain flow, like a see saw, a back and forth between [like or unlike] minds. However, what is taking place is far from such a common sense and proactive approach. The talks that are taking place currently between conformists and non-conformists echo a societal instability brought about by the conformist that will only exacerbate with time.
Intricately, this particular issue is touched upon in the thought-provoking book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki, who cautions individuals on this very subject:
“Try not to force your idea on someone but rather think about it with him. If you feel you have won the discussion, that is also the wrong attitude. Try not to win in the argument; just listen to it; but it is also wrong to behave as if you had lost. Usually when we say something, we are apt to try to sell our teaching or force our idea.”
In other words, allow others the freedom to make choices, to find their own path – to make mistakes. That is one of the best ways individuals grow, by learning from their choices. However, forcing opinions and/or beliefs on others is diametrically opposed to all that is good and sensible. Moreover, not only is overriding someone’s freedoms rather inhuman, or conformist to say the least, but it goes directly against the very idea of Freedom and its downright tyrannical. In contrast, if conformists would opt to listen to others, as happens in free-flowing conversations of open-minded individuals, those pushing their beliefs and agendas would come to an understanding as to why the other individual feels reticent to the particular issue. That simple step can help magnitudes in understanding where another person is coming from and why the other person feels as they feel. A conformist’s conversations never even get that far. Ironically, that would also be the place where arguably most progress could be made.
If inquiring individuals who wish to engage in mental discernment are not allowed their own personal moment of clarity – of piercing through the veil – they will not own the moment – know the truth – but merely borrow another person’s footsteps as their own. Such an instance robs the individuals of making great progress in their strides for the truth and thus leaves them at square one.
When someone is forced to intellectually conform they are not allowed the freedom to philosophize – to seek wisdom. Philosophy is crucial, for it literally means the love of wisdom. How is an individual ever going to gain insights, journey to wisdom, unless they are allowed or even urged to ask questions?
“If we do not philosophize, if we do not question appearances, if we are satisfied with whatever makes us feel happy, we will never know whether we are being deceived about who we are and what level of our being is being satisfied.”
An individual that is not allowed to hone their senses and polish their intuition will not have the opportunity to learn to see the forest for the trees. If said individual merely accepts the authoritarian conformist’s attitudes they will suffer in many ways. These inquiring individuals will have a harder time – or nigh impossible time – figuring out deception [as we are seeing nowadays]; these individuals won’t be able to figure out a well argued argument based on facts and logic from outright speculation or downright lies; these genuinely curious individuals will also not be able to become as robust and self sufficient as possible as they could be in this coming age of [dis]information. Such an individual will be just like a boat in the ocean with a busted sail that is drifting aimlessly directly into an eternal storm.
That is why it’s imperative as individuals to help others realize their full potential as they seek truth and growth within our world. As other individuals grow, they will share what made them change in positive fashion. And as we learn from them, we can learn as well, and it begins a self reinforcing process in which the rising tide lifts all ships.
Ruminating a bit deeper into this entire conundrum, maybe this issue is about more than truth though. Perhaps there’s more on the line than meets the eye. What seems to be missing to some extent, in some individuals at least, is simply the ability for them to be caring human beings, regardless of beliefs. A truly caring, wholesome individual will not simply railroad someone else because they believe something different or refuse to believe them.
It seems that following a personal philosophy of seeking personal growth through an attempted mastery of your mental and spiritual wellbeing seems like a prudent choice to say the least. And personal growth involves more than just attaining truth or strengthening beliefs.
Observing the words of Kreeft once more:
“Wisdom is more than knowledge. Knowing all facts in a library does not make you wise. Wisdom is a knowledge not just of facts but of values, of what is humanly important; and it is a knowledge that is a lived, that is learned by experience and lived out in experience.”
When conformists push their ideals and beliefs onto inquiring individuals, they take away the opportunity for those individuals to have meaningful experiences for growth and self-development, which includes more than simple truths or beliefs. Those instances may never take place again. Individuals that are not allowed to live to their fullest extent will only realize a fraction of the capability they would otherwise be able to achieve if they were allowed to venture upon their personal road less traveled – their individual journey.
Those who are allowed to gain personal insights on their road to self mastery will not only grow profoundly but will also develop a more robust Socratic Philosophy, just like the Greeks did in ancient times.
In ancient times:
“The Greeks became the world’s greatest philosophers partly because…they learned to question appearances to find something more, some hidden reality behind the appearances.”
Such is the reason why appearances, beliefs and supposed facts must always be questioned. For if they are not, what might be hidden will never rise to the surface and will not be able to be seen in pure darkness. Truth is the only light beam that disintegrates the shadows. And the only way to attain truth is for individuals to hone their inner fire, their inner light.
Touching upon this very concern, award winning teacher, advocate of self-directed learning and of individual freedom, John Taylor Gatto urged in his landmark book Dumbing Us Down:
“People have to be allowed to make their own mistakes or to try again, or they will never master themselves, although they may well seem to be competent when they have in fact only memorized or imitated someone else’s performance. Success in my practice involves challenging many comfortable assumptions about what is worth learning and out of what material a good life is fashioned.”
Questioning our conformable assumptions – our beliefs – about what is worth learning – for each individual – and bring about most growth is what this entire conundrum is about. That is why it is crucial that:
“One should not present others with ready-made answers, preach to them, or only make them memorize things. One needs to activate them. They should figure things out. The ambition can even be to liberate them.”
To help individuals achieve total freedom – physically, spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and mentally – they need to be encouraged to walk their own path, learn their own lessons – find their own wisdom.
If individuals aren’t allowed to grow, or choose not to, their mental faculties will atrophy, like someone who uses crutches constantly has their muscles atrophy from disuse.
As friends, colleagues, or simply caring human beings, perhaps it is imperative not to worry only about our subjective ideas, beliefs, or even outright facts. What’s important is helping the other individual wherever they may need help, along their road, so they can then better understand whatever it is that they seek knowledge in. What got them to their current point in life is vastly different to what got you to yours. In like fashion, what gets them to the truth will most likely be vastly different than what got you to it.
Allowing other individuals the opportunity for growth is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another human being in their journey. Along this journey, other individuals may at times need help.Walk along side them, as long as they need, and help them when possible. But remember, their life is their journey.
While your paths may cross time and again, ultimately an individual’s journey will be a rather unique and authentic experience. Along this path, the side of the road will surely be rife with random rocks lacking meaning. But now and again, among/amidst the ruble, an individual’s curiosities will be sparked by sparkles of truth, and they will find gratifying gems. These are the very gems of wisdom that will push individuals further down their path to intellectual treasure, further towards their adventure for truth – towards individual growth.
Ultimately, what another individual does is up to them, for its their life, their freedom, their choice. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t help them along that journey. Just help them in any way you can, especially if they implore you for help. That’s what friendship is all about. That’s what being a caring human being is all about.
And maybe, just maybe, one day these individuals will realize that it was you whose left some of those gems along their road, and that they’ve been given a gift, and that it’s been there all along, just waiting for the right moment.
And the right moment is now.
Give them that gift.
Zy Marquiez is an avid book reviewer, researcher, an open-minded skeptic, yogi, humanitarian, and freelance writer who studies and mirrors regularly subjects like Consciousness, Education, Creativity, The Individual, Ancient History & Ancient Civilizations, Forbidden Archaeology, Big Pharma, Alternative Health, Space, Geoengineering, Social Engineering, Propaganda, and much more.
His own personal blog is BreakawayConsciousnessBlog.wordpress.com where his personal work is shared, while TheBreakaway.wordpress.com serves as a media portal which mirrors vital information usually ignored by mainstream press, but still highly crucial to our individual understanding of various facets of the world.
Friendship is something that we all share with someone to varying degrees, and under a variety of circumstances. Friends, true friends, should be able to go through thick and thin, no matter what the obstacle. The greater the obstacle, the quicker one will find out who their friends are. With that said, with the recent divide and conquer left-right paradigm political climate that always takes place during election, lots of friendships were tested.
Recently, noticed myself that a lot of people kept throwing other individuals they considered ‘friends’ under the bus, simply because those people employed varying beliefs. Saw this take place literally dozens of times over the last six months, and it’s quite mindboggling to say the least. In fact, it’s still taking place to some extent.
All of these issues make me wonder if the virtue of friendship hasn’t been cheapened, when compared to what it was like in the past, when say, people like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were friends. Mind you, Tolkien and Lewis, although sharing much in common, did not agree on everything.
This increasing pattern makes me wonder whether or not what people call friendship nowadays is nothing more than a shell of its former ideal.
Ironically, the very people throwing others under the bus for being who they really are, are themselves the ones demanding other individuals to respect those very same qualities. Talk about hypocritical!
In a world where people gain ‘friends’, seemingly with every new minute, it does seem that to some extent the quality of friendship/acquaintances has been cheapened. But perhaps, by that very nature, when true unbounded friendship is achieved, it is vastly more meaningful than it ever could be.
It seems with time, more and more people just want others to be a clone of themselves. They want to talk to a mirror for the rest of their lives. They want the mirror to reply, exactly how they themselves would reply.Every. Single. Time. That’s a highly disturbing proposition.
What’s the world coming to when other people want to literally program you to be who they want you to be? Perhaps, this is taking place because from the bottom up, that’s exactly what the system does to us.
From youth, the public school system has taught society how to conform in astounding degrees. This can be seen here, here, and here. So it’s no wonder that now the people that have been conforming their whole lives want others to conform. That doesn’t justify what’s taking place, but it helps shed a shred of light unto this conundrum.
Regardless of that, however, if there’s one positive thing to take from this it is that, if someone’s not your true friend, they will just be an anchor upon your ship, and hold you back. Nothing positive can come from someone that wishes you to conform, regardless of what you believe. That simply shows these people did not respect nor value the friendship and what it truly means.
Just as a ship can’t move while being held back by the weight of a broken anchor that can’t be pulled back, some individuals won’t be able to move forward through life with people holding them back in similar fashion. That’s why it’s vital to breakaway from toxic relationships.
After all, those who really are your friends, deep down inside, will never put you through such circumstances. In fact, they will go with you above in beyond, through hell and back and always be there, right by your side, to the end – because that’s what true friendship is about.
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