Monday, October 27, 2014

Friendship and its discontents

Actually, I'm not going to talk too much about the discontents of friendship; but thanks to a first-year class at Bard College, I tend to love adding "and its discontents" to almost any noun in a title, the more abstract, the better. Try it, it's fun:
  • Education--and its discontents
  • Love--and its discontents
  • The Gift Economy--and its discontents
What I'm actually going to talk about here comes from a recent Judge John Hodgman podcast on friendship, where the dispute was over this one woman's very precise--and open--way to rank all levels of acquaintance, while reserving "friend" for those particular relationships that merit that honor. 

Which might sound silly (but then, I'll spend hours reading about the history of post-apocalyptic pen-and-paper roleplaying games, so "silly" is a relative term), but John Hodgman made some very cogent points about the abuse of "friend" both as a term and as a concept. 

To wit, with the intimate-seeming nature of online interactions ("John Hodgman told me what he's thinking! By tweeting his thoughts!") and the narcissistic loss of non-friend relationship markers ("It's not enough that I work with my colleagues, they also have to love me!"), we've impoverished and cramped our notions of potential relationships. In sum, "What's wrong with calling someone an acquaintance?"

He's got a point; but in fact, I'm mostly writing this blog post because I so liked Hodgman's principles of friendship that he tossed off and I wanted to write them out (as best as I could hear them). This probably deserves to be made into a video or a needlepoint pillow, so hopefully someone will find it:

John Hodgman's Principles of Friendship:
Try to be around people who make you genuinely feel happy and not anxious, or sad, or weird or whatever.
Gently disengage from people who make you feel bad and don't care at all about how you feel--and don't care about those people anymore.
Do more favors than you ask for--remember it always hurts to ask.
Let people know when you are genuinely thinking nice things about them. 
But be alert to the more frequent times when you are not thinking about anyone but yourself at all. 
And then remember that we're all like this, we're all mostly thinking about ourselves. 
So if someone lets you down--
--let them off the hook. 
You're letting plenty of people down all the time in small and big ways and it's just how it goes being an individual human being. 
Don't sit on the same side of the booth at a restaurant, even if you're lovers. 
Don't leave a lot of voicemails; please don't write long emails.
And be nice.
And that's all you need to do.

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