“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”― Helen Keller
During this pandemic, we have become physically distant from people, friends online or over the phone has made living slightly easier. The physical distance is not necessarily a hindrance to closeness or emotional bonds which friendships offered. Friendships transcended physical boundaries – in fact, the usual capitalist ventures of meeting over a cup of coffee or mall hopping ceased to exist – we were back to the solace of words over online or telephonic medium.
It’s important to realize the importance of friends who understand us due to shared life experiences, time spent together or friends with whom intimacy developed as we trod through life. They do not need a few sessions to understand the path that our life has taken. They do not need to do wonders to uplift our mood, their mere presence is enough. A specific funny incident of the past may light us up immediately or even a sombre chat is calming.
In these times of political distress, everyone has major anxiety pangs and who better than friends to realize those woes. A few things are as reassuring as an empathetic friend who knows exactly what one is going through. Let me clarify this is not to underestimate the need for therapy but to have a supportive base of reliable friends who understand. Human contact and presence go a long way in uplifting our mood. If each of us had a set of friends who were hell-bent on not letting the other slip into a bout of a bad mood, it would be easier for many of us coping with the ordeals of life.
Don’t tell me that as a friend, it doesn’t perturb you that a close friend goes through unbelievable downs all the time. It’s time that friendship start meaning other things than hanging out over a cup of coffee or likes over social media posts– to understanding the meaning of life along with friends who may be on different boats but share the same journey down the river of life. This process of mutual understanding is required for self-realization and growth. The word friend needs to be taken as a responsibility rather than as a tag of acquaintance.
Various philosophers have pondered about friendships. According to Aristotle, for a person to be friends with another ‘it is necessary that [they] bear goodwill to each other and wish good things for each other, without this escaping their notice’. One cannot but believe the Aristotelian perspective: what but goodwill cures?
Nietzche says, “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” Anyone who has seen the breakdown of marriages would know that it is a lack of friendship that makes it unbearable. One is reminded of Richard Bach who says, “Your friends will know you better in the first minute you meet than your acquaintances will know you in a thousand years.”
The power of right words coming with the right intent can do wonders in curing – especially if you have faith in friendship which took time to develop – there are faith and goodwill which lies behind those words.
The care that comes with friends should not be limited to words: small acts of kindness go a long way in making an unhappy person feel better and wanted. In the end, everyone wants to feel validated. In fact, if we see the concept of social networking sites: it thrives on the notion of social validation from friends, all of us want to be liked, loved and most importantly noticed.
If a bunch of friends took the task on themselves to make sure that a friend’s well-being is partially their responsibility as well, there are two things which could happen, the diminishing importance of social media and less of its addiction and reviving the importance of real-life friendships.
They have made me overcome self-blaming. There are aspects of life where family fails to understand: it is that those junctures that friends gain importance – of being the nonjudgmental punching bag that one resorts to in times of despair.
Even Rumi points out the importance of looking beyond the vision of rights and wrongs when he says, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” At times one is really not looking for a cure – but simply to be heard and understood.
However, non-judgmentalism is a rare trait and often we all have the tendency to be judgmental based on our practical experiences and theoretical underpinnings. I am reminded of one of the chief clauses of symbolic interactionism where theorists like Mead and Cooley have suggested that in order to understand someone, we need to place ourselves in their shoes. The inability to be understanding at all times is a human trait but as friends, we try, nonetheless.
It’s interesting how many shayars (poets) have emphasized the disasters that friendships turn out to be:
Suhail Azeemabadi writes “patthar to hazāroñ ne maare the mujhe lekin, jo dil pe lagā aa kar ik dost ne maarā hai”. Habib Jalib attacks the very notion of friendship when he says, “Dushmanoñ ne jo dushmanī kī hai, dostoñ ne bhī kyā kamī kī hai.”
Ghalib is however more hopeful of friends, he says “ye kahāñ kī dostī hai ki bane haiñ dost nāseh koī chārasāz hotā koī ġham-gusār hotā”. Probably if one understands Ghalib here one would think in such times, one needs a friend who is more empathetic rather than mere preachers as friends. People willing to place themselves in your shoes and know exactly what it is to feel the kind of pain that you are feeling.
The only woe is they might not be perpetually available. However, it is at that point in time that we also need to understand the need for self-healing which can happen through music, learning a new instrument or language, random conversation with strangers or mere self-introspection. I also believe in the importance of staying in silence. And in times that self-help fails, we hang on to a close circle of friends who do wonders for us. After all, man is a social animal, as our class 5 essays used to read.
Author Sujata Jha is a PhD scholar in the Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia. She has taught in Miranda House, Kamla Nehru College and Jamia Millia Islamia and various schools.