by Fr. Gerald Kelly
The main purpose of the first part of this series is to analyze the psychology of sex attraction. However, as will appear later, there are certain elements of sex attraction that cannot be properly estimated without reference to the more general notion of friendship. Hence it is necessary to begin the entire section with an examination of what is meant, or at least what should be meant, by true friendship. It has been our experience with many young men and women who read the manuscript of this series that at first some were strongly inclined to balk-at our description of friendship. Their idea of a friend had always been: "I like him and he likes me" I and they were displeased on finding that that notion could not always square with the qualifications on which we insist. After considerable argument on our part and further consideration on theirs, they have generally come to the conclusion that we are correct.
It is essential to keep in mind from the beginning that we are talking about true friendship, not about a mere emotional fascination, or blind passion, or a companionship of mere convenience which is struck up today, is carried on pleasantly for a time, and then dies of its own weight. Real friendship differs considerably from these things. A companionship may be styled a real friendship only when it possesses these three qualities:
A few words about each of these qualities will lay a solid foundation for the first part of this series. For the time being it is well to omit any special application to love between the sexes. These three qualities distinguish true friendship wherever it is found, whether between persons of the same sex or of different sexes. The qualities have not been chosen arbitrarily or at random; they are given here as the result of long and serious study of the real meaning of friendship, and with the confidence that any thoughtful reader will agree with the enumeration.
- It is morally helpful to both parties;
- There is a genuine basis of agreement between the parties;
- Their mutual love is characterized by a spirit of self-sacrifice.
To put this negatively, it means that a companionship is not a true friendship if it leads to sin, to troubles of conscience, to a lowering of ideals, to a weakening of faith, to neglect in the practice of one's religious duties. Such harmful moral effects violate the most elemental idea of real friendship. Friendship is founded on mutual respect, and it is impossible to have a sincere respect for one who has the influence of poison on the soul. True love seeks the good of the beloved, and this good is never found in sin.
Friendship should have a positive influence for moral good. The appreciation of the worthiness of the friend should inspire one to a similar worthiness. It lifts up; it brings both nearer to God; it is a union in Christ. An intimate companionship is bound to influence both parties, and only a good influence is worthy of friendship. There should be mutual help to avoid sin, and mutual inspiration to the practice of virtue.
This does not mean that in forming our friendships we must consciously strive for moral betterment, but it does mean that we should not consciously prolong a companionship that we recognize as morally evil. It does not mean that both friends must be equal in virtue, but it does mean that both should have an appreciation of and a willingness to practice virtue and that at least their influence on each other is not a hindrance to the practice of virtue. You can have a blind attachment for a person who leads you away from God, but you cannot have a genuine love for such a person. "I love you, so let's go to hell together," is language that simply does not make sense, whether expressed by word or action; whereas the contrary, "I love you, so I want to take you to heaven with me," is full of meaning.
This point may seem too obvious for discussion, for we are accustomed to think of friendship in terms of common interests, common taste.3, similar likings, and so forth. The friend is one to whom we go for sympathy, encouragement, helpful advice, and inspiration; he is one with whom we can share joy and sorrow; he is, in fine, another self. All these things imply a very special kind of agreement.
Obvious though it may seem there are a few points about the agreement of friendship that may well be recalled here. The agreement, for instance, is genuine, not artificial. In this it differs greatly from mere fascination. If you have a strong emotional attachment to another, you will often note that it prompts you to like just what he likes, to want to do just what he wants, to think about things just as he thinks about them, yet all the while, if you are honest, you know deep down in your heart that the whole similarity is artificial, that this is not your ordinary way of living and thinking, and that it cannot last.
To know if the agreement of real friendship exists, one has to decide if there exists between oneself and one's friend a basis for lasting harmony. This does not mean that both must have exactly the same natural likes and dislikes. That kind of similarity may even be destructive of true, lasting friendship, because it makes things too easy, limits the beneficial interchange of views, and reduces incentive to mutual self-sacrifice dangerously close to zero. The ideal agreement of friendship implies the ability to work together harmoniously, with wholesome agreement on big and fundamental things and agreeable compromise in the lesser things. Differences of opinion and taste should be points of enjoyable mental contact and intercommunication, and not occasions for the breaking of the friendship.
Normally there must be some compromise, some mutual yielding in regard to personal likes and dislikes, in friendship. Few people can be intimate over a long period of time and always have the same desires at the same time or always be naturally pleasing to each other. There must be compromise, mutual yielding in such small things as how to spend an evening or how to decorate a room; there must be mutual overlooking of small faults and mutual respect for divergent opinions. But the compromise has to be limited to accidentals. It cannot enter the sphere of conscience. It cannot include such fundamental things as Creed, Moral Code, Method of Worship. At least for a Catholic, compromise in these latter things would violate the first rule of friendship. That is a difficulty often brought out at the time of a mixed marriage. The non-Catholic is sometimes of the opinion that he is being dealt with unjustly when he is asked to promise to allow the children to be brought up as Catholics. In reality, it is the only way that the case could be solved without an immoral compromise, for non-Catholics generally agree on the principle that one Christian religion is as good as another, whereas it is part and parcel of a Catholic's faith that his is the one true Church. He could not conscientiously allow his children to be brought up in any other church, whereas most non-Catholics can do that without violating their consciences.
The wider the field of intimacy and harmony among friends, the richer and more extensive is their friendship. Thus, all other things being equal, two saints enjoy a richer friendship than do ordinary people because their capacity for mutual sharing is more profound. So, too, all other things being equal, a friendship between two good Catholics is richer Than a friendship that exists between a Catholic and a non-Catholic, for the simple reason that the former have a much larger field of common interests and a much deeper bond of common sympathy. But, whatever be the scope of their mutual intimacy, friends should always realize that they can and should keep their friendship vital and make it richer by a constant striving to reproduce in oneself the good one finds in the other. And this really brings us to the third quality of friendship.
It is not mere poetry to say that true friendship involves a blending of souls. In any blending process, each element gives up something of itself, of its own individuality, and thus contributes to the common result. Friendship is the result of an analogous union of souls --each gives his best to the other. In practice, this giving of one's best means sustained self-sacrifice. Friendship cannot endure without it.
St. Ignatius, speaking of friendship between God and the soul, gives these two simple signs of the love of friendship: First, it shows itself by deeds rather than words. Secondly, if one friend has good things, he wishes to share them with the other. These are good norms for human friendship, too; they indicate the quality of self-giving that is the salt of all friendship.
To keep this from being too theoretical, it is well to look at some of the many practical ways in which self-sacrifice plays its part in keeping friendship alive. For example, there are the compromises already mentioned. Each compromise requires a certain gracious "giving in," and the willingness to do this is incompatible with unyielding selfishness. When you have known a person for a long time, especially when you associate with him intimately, you begin to notice small defects that you may not have perceived at the beginning; sometimes, because of changing moods, these defects begin to "get on your nerves. " These moments can be fatal to friendship unless one resolutely crushes the inclination to concentrate on them and make much of them. Or again, suspicions and jealousies may arise in the mind. The loyalty necessary for friendship demands that such things be banished.
A friend should be a resort in time of trial, one who can give sympathy and encouragement, one who has a willing ear for both troubles and pleasures. Often enough it is not difficult to exercise these good offices of friendship, but sometimes it happens that you are in a contrary mood just when your friend needs help. You would much rather talk about yourself. At these times, the readiness to fulfill. the duties of a friend cheerfully requires great self-sacrifice. Again it happens that at the beginning of friendship, both are quite spontaneous in performing little kindnesses and courtesies; but the familiarity of friendship has a tendency to blunt this spirit of thoughtfulness. Yet such thoughtfulness in little things must be kept up, and doing so requires constant self-discipline. Finally, each friend should be a moral inspiration to the other; and there in no doubt that the day-in and day-out attempt to be worthy of the other, to be a help to the other, makes constant demands on one's self-love.
The foregoing examples give some indication of how friendship is a perpetual and mutual self-giving. This need of self-sacrifice may be summed up in a few words: there must be patience with defects, rejection of suspicions, constancy in service, a real desire and a genuine effort to understand each other--in fine, the practice of the golden rule by both parties, especially in bad moods, disagreements, and misunderstandings. In themselves, these occasions of difficulty are small, arising out of the fact that we human beings have many imperfections. But constancy in facing them and cheerfully overcoming oneself in them requires a high quality of love.
A Rational Love
After the explanation of the three qualities of friendship, it should be evident that the love of friendship is not mere emotionalism or sentimentality or sense appeal. It is a rational love, a human love. We human beings differ from animals in that our minds can see the good and that we can freely direct our affections towards that good. There may or may not be much external emotion in our love; our hearts may or may not beat violently; but the essential thing, the fundamental thing, the human thing is that the head must also be used. Friendship is basically a love of the mind. One sees the goodness, the character of the friend, and upon this basis one strives for union.
Perhaps we should add here that in speaking of friendship we have been considering the ideal. Of course, in any definite friendship the qualities we have outlined admit of progress, and it may be that in the beginning they are present only very imperfectly. But they ought to be present at least in some degree; otherwise the friendship can hardly be called true.
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Copyright © Gerald Kelly. Reproduced with permission of Fusion International. All rights reserved.