Handle with care. F.R.I.E.N.D.S inside !


Ranjan Yumnam
Every time I want to hear some sweet words, I would reach out to a wonderful friend of mine who has never failed to cheer me up.  Her name is the Devil's Dictionary. She defines friendship like no other. Friendship is "a ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in a foul." Satirically deconstructed, friendship is nothing but a game of reciprocity. Give and take—preferably, more taking than giving if one can get away with it. When everything is rosy and the air lovey-dovey, friends can tolerate each other and pretend that they are all in this together, travelling in a white yacht in the sunny Arabian Seas if only to suck the ambience of high spirits. When the good weather deteriorates into thunderstorms, the illusion of togetherness leaves the party, and each person is one friend, all for herself.
According to ancient wise men, there are three kinds of friends: useful friends, friends for pleasure, and virtuous friends. The first category of friends is the most common. They inhabit our offices, shopping malls, banks, and motor garages, and they are more acquaintances than friends in the real sense. You may wish to borrow a book from them but never think it prudent to lend one to them.
The second type of friends are the men and women with whom we mingle in fair weather. They exist to make photogenic memories and fun photographs on our special occasions, summer vacations, and birthday parties. In this realm of friendships, mutual give—and—take attracts the highest marks, which calls for a congratulatory cake-cutting.
The third category of friendship is rare. Virtuous people of character, noble lifestyle and high mind are hard to find by themselves. If you are lucky, you may have more than one without counting your own spouse. More than being mere friends, they counsel us to the right path, point out our mistakes, keep a record of our wayward ways, suggest how to avoid them and even fix them for us. Sometimes, they make your life their sole business.
They are inconvenient and follow odd timings. Without any consideration for our sensitivity and creature comfort, they would pour cold water on our heads to wake us up from our sound sleep to ensure we were punctual for an important meeting in the morning. As much as they can become a nuisance, they are vital for our personal growth and course correction in life. In other words, we need them despite their erratic and eccentric ways.
Thy name is Fragile
But all friends are highly fragile. After all, they are human beings first who think they are rational beings, but only up to a point. They hold to be important and dearest—their self-identity. The only drawback is that what is valuable is also vulnerable by its very essence. People’s identities are defined by their beliefs, political affiliations, Nation, ethnicity, gender, family, Instagram followers, haters, etc. Any perceived attacks on one pillar of self-identity are more lethal than beating them up physically on the street. Arguments and evidence that counter the basis of one’s self-identity are always ignored by deploying convenient logical fallacies, and our well-laid-out arguments often fail to sway people’s dogmas. Human beings are, after all, rationalizing machines, not rational beings. Why do ideologues refuse to use GPS ? Because they will never change directions ! One joke goes.
The second factor that shapes the self-identity of a person is her sense of belongingness to a group. We abide by the group rules and play our roles accordingly. If you are a nurse, you can’t act like a goldsmith (try gold-digger instead !). It’s your duty to defend the philosophy and norms of your group no matter the situation or you face the danger of ostracization. Ostracization is like a forced exile. It’s painful, a place of shame and guilt. To avoid it, you must sing along with the group, at all times.
Most of us live as members of a group or many groups. Group overlap creates psychological conflicts, and when our groups go to war against each other, we choose to remain silent to avoid internal discomfort and ostracization. For example, I love meat, but my religion forbids eating it. “Am I contradictory ? No, I am large and I contain multitudes,” Walt Whitman once wrote. These push-and-pull intergroup sentiments resonate with most of us.
Having said that, no man is an island, and no girl can live without taking selfies and sharing those with the whole wide world. We are social animals. And because we are social, we are political because we need ground rules to love, fight and fear. In a perfect world where all are fair friends, we won’t need justice. Since friendships are ephemeral, we need the certainty of laws.
Build bridges
Other people matter. Even the most egoistic and narcissistic souls need other people to feel grander, better and richer. I may be overstretching this fact but a serial killer needs her victims in the form of other human beings.
This brings us to how we can sustain friendships and make them last beyond dinner conversations. One way is to never break the social rule of reciprocity. The second is to aim for quality rather than quantity. According to Dunbar, a person can have five best friends at most. The additional ones are all weeds. One of the most important tips is to give more to your friends than you expect from them and store a deposit of goodwill which you can use strategically at the most critical time.
As one accumulates years in life, the number of friends dwindles, and once an individual gets out of the school/college system, it takes a nose-dive. One time-tested advice is never to burn bridges. The weak ties become stronger at the right time and place, depending on the situation, and given the right incentive and spark, the lukewarm friends can blossom into the warmest relationships.
So, handle your friendships with care. You never know when they will betray you or kick you under the bus. But rest assured, if you survive their annoying ways, take care to nurture them from time to time. Friendships are fragile; stop playing rough. When it comes to friendships, it pays to build bridges in the long run. You may now burn down the yacht.