Monday, January 05, 2015

2015-01-03 A Year With The Harvard Classics - Cicero on Friendship

January 3 - Cicero on Friendship "Fire and water are not of more universal use than friendship"--such is the high value put upon this great human relatnship by the most famous orator of Rome." (Cicero born Jan. 3, 106 B.C. [E.])

"Therefore I gather that friendship springs from a natural impulse rather than a wish for help; from an inclination of the heart, combined with a certain instinctive feeling of love, rather than from a deliberate calculation of the material advantage it was likely to confer.  The strength of this feeling you may notice in certain animals. They show such love to their offspring for a certain period, and are so beloved by them, that they clearly have a share in this natural, instinctive affection." (Cicero, On Friendship)

Marcus Tullius Cicero, the great Roman orator of the 2nd century B.C.E. draws a distinction here between what I would refer to as friendliness and friendship.  Friendliness being a disposition toward others which may, or may not indicate the desire for a relationship conferring material advantage to the one demonstrating such a quality. Friendship, or   amicitia, in the Latin (derived from amor, the Latin word for love) notes Cicero, "admits no pretense" and is both genuine and spontaneous.  In other words, there is no other reason to "befriend" someone than to have a genuine and unqualified desire to love and honor the other.  That friendship is, by its very nature reciprocal and equal suggests that such love and honor is returned in like measure.

As a professional religious leader and a Pastor serving a congregation, I understand the reciprocal nature of friendship to be paramount, which is why I make it clear that I do not craft friendships, in the truest sense, with those I serve as minister. It is not that I don't desire to be loved and honored by those I serve, more that I do not expect those I serve to provide the emotional support that is often the most felt form of love and honor from them. I understand to be a fundamental dynamic in ministry, that the power and authority which is often shared, is not equal in the sense that those in ministry should look to members of the congregation to develop primary friendships.

That I am clear about this has been most helpful in my ministerial career, and why I am able to "friend" and be "friended" by those on social media.  I do this because I am clear that 1, what is called "friending" is fundamentally about friendliness, not friendship in its truest sense; and 2) social media is not the primary means through which I establish and maintain friendships. For me it is an easy way to share experiences and insights.  And while it also serves as a vehicle for expressing support for a variety of life situations, it is not a substitution for the depth that true friendship can muster.

This was made clear to me as I pondered my experience at my 30th high school class reunion.  While some of the folks there I've kept in touch with over the years through social media and other means, there are a handful, whose shared experience continues to shape my life, whose welfare I cherish enough to drop whatever I'm doing when they call and who'd I travel to support at a moment's notice.  Like Walter Winchell I too believe that "A friend is someone who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." And I think Cicero would agree.

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