Friendship: what are the purposes and duration of friendships? In light of what I described yesterday, we can now ask this question: if Aristotle was accurate in describing the three kinds of friendships (utility, pleasure, and virtue), what are their purposes and how long do they endure? And, as we are asking this in the context of debate and conversation, and sometimes with intense disagreement, we need to ask what the conversation is doing to our friendships. If we look, we’ll see by the impact what kind of friendship it was.
1.0 Friendship of Utility. We could begin by think over different ages (children, teenagers, college students, young adults in the business world, parents, middle age, and senior citizens) and see which ages are most characterized by friendships of utility. What are the purposes or goals of this kind of friendship. How long do these kinds of friendship last?
We are “utility” friends if we are getting something from someone.
2.0 Friendship of Pleasure. What are the pleasures that develop friendships of pleasure? What are the purposes and goals of this kind of friendship? How long do these friendships last?
Again, we are “pleasure” friends if we get some kind of pleasure from the relationship.
3.0 Friendship of Virtue. Friendships of virtue display two features: (1) emulation of a more virtuous person (sometimes a peer; sometimes not) and (2) mutual yearning for a virtue or virtues.
I’m impressed by this comment by Cicero: “… for when persons have conceived a longing for this virtue they bend towards it and move closer to it; so that, by familiar association with that person whom they have begun to love [emulation], they may enjoy that person’s character, equal that person in affection, become readier to deserve rather than demand that person’s approval, and vie with that person in a rivalry of virtue” (De Amicitia 9.32).
If our goal is to become virtuous, and this is decidedly Roman rhetoric, then we are friend “with” one another so that we can each become what we are meant to be. This, to me, is the genius of using the term “conversation” for the emerging movement. It is about working with one another, listening to one another, growing with one another, being reproved by one another, for the purpose of becoming virtuous. Now, let me put this in more biblical terms: we are mentored, as it were, or discipled, by someone in order to become what God made us to be. This is what the conversation is all about.
If we trust one another enough to help one another along, we have every chance of making an impact for the kingdom of God. But, if we accuse and stab and wound and say hurtful, mean-spirited thing, we lose out ourselves and we fail to grow from one another.
We have two options: we can either draw a larger circle to include the ones we disagree with, and so let them into our world and we will grow and be stretched and learn from that relationship. They will help us in our thinking (blogging, too) so that our thoughts will be straighter and clearer. Or, we can tighten the circle and exclude others and if we do, we’ll become comfortable and narrow and we’ll not grow and develop. These will attack and insult and not encourage a person in his or her own thinking. It is a question of judging others or befriending others in the journey.
Frankly, the former is so much harder.
The best conversation, for me, is the one that says “Here’s what I think and why” and the other person says “Here’s what I think and why” and they each come back, and the first person and the second person re-think and grow from it. Good conversationalists listen and, instead of just saying “Hey, you got this wrong,” say, “What about this idea, what does it to do to your thinking? Did you consider this?” and even “Here’s an idea that will make your idea even better.”
I know there has to be some back and forth, and some riposte, but I wonder if we too often let this get out of hand in a joust of “who’s right” or (even worse) “can I prove this person wrong?” We get pleasure of this, but we lose a friend.
Pagitt calls this “progressional dialogue.” He’s got that right. Genuine conversation is progressional dialogue among friends, who are friends of virtue.