I was talking with a friend the other day about the true meaning of friendship. I call him a friend, although after our discussion, I’m not so sure that we agree on what the term actually means.
We have a long history, one that extends back to when I lived in Miami. We were both serving on a neighborhood board. Of course, I was frequently outspoken, as is my nature, and in most cases, I was the only one voicing a contrary opinion. (As Davy Crockett once said, “Be sure you are right, then go ahead.”) Needless to say, my solitary stance didn’t make me very popular.
However, being the sole voice of dissent never bothered me. After all, isn’t that a basic tenant of our American way of life — that everyone is entitled to an opinion, even if it’s the minority view?
That said, I figured my buddy would stand by me. At the time he was president of the organization, a past position that I had held before him. So when the other members went behind my back and suggested that I should be ousted because my position was contrary to theirs, I expected my friend would stand up for me and insist that my opinion be recognized.
Sadly, he didn’t. He went along with the majority and allowed them to move for my dismissal.
I’m still disappointed to this day. I continually raise the issue and point to what I consider a betrayal, not only of our friendship but also the principle of free speech.
He insists that as president of the organization, he had no choice but to go along with the wishes of the other members. I believe that his loyalty to me should have come first.
That leads to continuing discussions — and in many cases, arguments — about what friendship entails and, indeed, the very meaning of the word. I insist that friendship brings certain obligations, such as loyalty, empathy and understanding, even when there’s no agreement in promise or principle.
For me, friendship means knowing that someone has your back and will be there for you when needed, if not physically, at least emotionally.
Clearly he disagrees. Not only does he refuse to concede the fact that he deserted me and turned his back when I needed him most, but he counters by saying that I’m setting preconditions when it comes to choosing friends, and that he doesn’t have any qualifications in that regard.
That’s a difficult concept for me to understand. Don’t we have choices as to who we choose to call a friend? While these values aren’t always discussed, shouldn’t there be a certain understanding that suggests we have similar thoughts and values as far as the bond that unites us? Otherwise, aren’t we simply taking one another for granted?
He’s never conceded that point, and I, in turn, suggest that perhaps he doesn’t know what genuine friendship entails. What’s more, if one doesn’t pay heed to the responsibilities — spoken or unspoken — then that friendship really doesn’t mean all that much. It certainly doesn’t have the bond to back it up.
I must admit that I still like the guy. He can be amusing, and while I don’t always agree with him, I do admire his wit and intellect. However I’d be less than honest if I said his lack of support still bothers me, and that I’m disappointed he didn’t defend me, even if he disagreed with my position.
Sadly, he refuses to acknowledge his betrayal, much less apologize for it. We’ve argued vehemently back and forth, and on more than one occasion, I’ve considered walking away. But then I reconsider and try to get past it. I recognize that I will never fully forgive him and can’t ever trust him to be there for me if I ever needed him. That’s a marked difference between him and the friends I have now. There’s not a single one of them who wouldn’t be there for me if they were needed.
I honestly believe that my true friends have my back.
Unfortunately, the ongoing antagonism that accompanied the last presidential election caused several friendships to suffer. There are people I’ve known for decades who were on the opposite side of the political fence, and our exchanges became so bitter and vehement that we’re no longer speaking. Others simply vanished. That wasn’t my choice, but at the same time, I found the venom unbearable. Now that the election’s over, the damage still hasn’t been undone.
On the other hand, There are those who don’t necessarily agree with my political posturing, and yet, we still retain our friendships. In fact, the bonds remain as strong as ever. We put our mutual admiration for one another above our differences, however adamant they may be.
That, I think, is another defining measure of what true friendship entails.
Friendship isn’t always easy, and differences can get in the way. But I believe we seniors know better than most how valuable — and essential — it is to have true friends. Sometimes we lose them, either because they’ve passed, moved away, lost touch, or we is simply haven’t caught up. But we should never take them for granted. It’s an essential element and life wouldn’t be as beautiful without them.
As the song says, “that’s what friends are for ... .”