The ‘Power’ of Friendship, and Why You’re Actually a Little Desperate
According to children’s movies and a slew of Japanese video games, the “power of friendship” is the single greatest force in the universe. Explanation for why that’s the case is seldom given though. Today, I would like to offer up some thoughts on the value of friendship, especially why it makes you and me look a little desperate.
What Have You Gotten Yourself Into?
First of all, this is not going to be a discussion of how we make friends, or why one or two of them end up becoming our best friends. That is an entirely separate discussion. Here, I only want to talk about the underlying “why” of friendship in the most general sense, and in order to answer why, I first need to answer “what.”
What do we do with friends? We converse with them, we play with them, we go on trips with them, we shop with them. Occasionally we convince them that they’re so much better off without their awful exes. Ultimately, these actions can be captured under one blanket: friends share their experiences.
Granted, you share experiences with casual acquaintances, and indeed even strangers as well. Every sentence that begins with “I” involves sharing information about yourself to someone else. The difference between an acquaintance or stranger and a friend is that there is the expectation that a friend will care about the information you relate. A stranger is not obligated to care that I built a website with my name on it. A friend however is at the very least obligated to feign enthusiasm for my endeavor. The obligation to provide a minimum level of concern or enthusiasm for your experiences is what makes a friend more valuable than an acquaintance or a stranger.
Why Do You Care That They Care?
Why should we value that friends care about us? The most practical reason of course is a matter of preservation; I have no survival skills whatsoever and would be utterly helpless in a post-apocalyptic scenario, but I have a very close friend who says he would keep me alive. I appreciate that he would go out of his way to not let me die when I would surely provide him utterly little in return, under the circumstances.
But let’s imagine a more perfect world, devoid of physical threats, where it can be safely assumed no one is ever in physical danger. Surely, friendship would continue to exist, and likely in even more massive supply than it does now. Thus, preservation is not at the root of why we value friendship.
What if we take one step back from preservation, become a little less narrow in our definition, and more generally observe “security.” Security, unlike preservation in this instance, can refer to our emotional well-being. Friends, through their obligation to demonstrate a minimum level of care, can provide us a level of security about our thoughts and actions. “Was it right of me to start a business?” “Was it wrong that I ate two desserts?” Whether they agree or even disagree with your viewpoint, the fact that they have an opinion at all tends to illustrate that they have a mental picture of your potential happiness, and they are trying to help you maximize that happiness. As such, friends can guide you toward living a happier life, directly or otherwise.
So let’s imagine an even more perfect world, a freakishly perfect world where things just always seem to work out. There might be a few challenges along the way, but everyone always eventually lands their dream job, meets their ideal spouse, and owns a lightsaber. Under these conditions, would friendship continue to exist? Of course. Heck, in this scenario, everyone would probably be friends with everyone, since no one is in competition for very long. This means that security, and potential creation of happiness by association, cannot be at the root of why we value friendship.
What are we left with in this situation, when “sharing our experiences with expectation of caring” is at the root of what friends do, but security and happiness are not the root factors in its occurrence?
Value Is the Monster
In a cliché movie twist, what if the villain is value itself? Phrased another way, what if it is our shaky conception of “value” as an entity that makes it so hard to pin down the value in friendship?
There are only a few systems of belief that attempt to provide concrete definitions of value, and most of them are religions. One problem of course is that not all people subscribe to the same belief systems, and some people do not subscribe to any rigid system of beliefs at all. Thus, a consensus on a definition of value will never arrive.
Let us take another step back now. Forgive me to make the supposition that no belief system, religious or otherwise, is concretely possible to prove as being entirely correct and accurate, at least according to any tools available to us right now. Without an ability to approve the accuracy of a system of belief, and by extension without an ability to provide an absolute definition of value, that renders it impossible to find the value in friendship. It renders it impossible to find objective value in anything, for that matter.
But friendship is a unique beast, different from valuing something such as commodity goods. The one thing that placing value in friendship gives us (or, by extension, placing value in sentimental objects and locations that connect us back to relationships) that commodity goods cannot is validation. Every friend who cares about you is providing a validation of your life. Every friend who cares intensely about you is that much more intensely validating your life. Validation is a man-made currency of value, and it can be given and received regardless of belief system. Validation is the universal currency that provides subjective value to human life.
Thus, in a nihilistic world where nobody can prove the objective value of anything, validation at least provides a stopgap, a home remedy for an incurable problem. However, in the opposite scenario, in a world where objective truth and value can be obtained, the desire for validation might continue anyway. We’re only human, after all, flawed and irrational humans, and we enjoy valuing ourselves in as many ways as we can.
So maybe the “power of friendship” really is of the highest subjective value of anything we value. Granted, friendship is not the exclusive domain of validation; the creation and consumption of art can produce direct and indirect validation, among other things. But friendship allows for direct reciprocal validation, and it is easily and unconsciously understood by all people. Friendship is truly a wonderful gift in this case, even if it makes us look a little desperate to have little else to hold up as evidence for why you or me should matter in the grand scheme of the cosmos across eternity.
And to clarify in closing, much of what has been discussed above in regard to friendship can be applied to “love” as well, though love presents its own can of worms, and I think it’s best to save the butterflies in our stomachs for another time.
[For a continuation of ideas presented here, please view this article: “The Power of Stories in Creating Your Legacy.”]