33. Knowing who friends are
People operate on a continuum between a need for solitude and for company, either by choice or necessity. Being able to regulate which direction to go in boosts well-being, yet the rug can suddenly be pulled from under an illusion of trustworthiness. Other people also like to regulate their involvement and journey. One relationship partner may be hoping to derive advantages that are quite different from what the other wants. Martin Buber’s cherished book, I and Thou shows how society’s cues encourage utilitarian aims rather than support open vulnerability in the space of authentic encounter.
Romance is not dead, however, but possibly transmuted as the entire human culture from its inception to today induces women in particular to fall for stereotypes around what they should want. The male disconnect response is made worse by a tendency to believe that behaviour is experienced as it’s intended and that everything’s fine, according to Herb Goldberg, in What Men Still Don’t Know About Women.
The right thing for women to do in marriage, according to religious and secular counsellors, has been to put up with ill-treatment and take the blame. Martha Nussbaum, in Women and Human Development, faults past methods of gauging female satisfaction for overlooking real problems women face in their material and social settings. With restricted resources for practising capabilities, asking what their conditions allow them to be and to do is wiser. Family conflict becomes an economic and social issue.
Family is where children develop and socialise, and how well this happens affects future interactions. The desire for human proximity dates to this crucial period when dependency is such that death could follow abandonment. If the impact is negative from Toxic Parents, as Susan Forward called her book on overcoming hurtful legacies, attention to undermining patterns and mindsets later will probably be needed. Naming truths, attempting genuine dialogue, can stir up awkward waves on the way to liberation, but left-over unhealthy manipulation, projection and silence only dull the life-force.The words and deeds of others who exert power shape thoughts, feelings and actions.Trying to please them despite plain evidence of a lack of respect, even abuse, just keeps a dysfunctional dynamic in play.
In his book about healing the inner child, Reconciliation, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches methods such as the peace treaty, beginning anew and letter-writing, to repair relationships. This approach acknowledges the delicacy and slow pace that may be required to address issues, but sometimes the only solution is to get far away.The author was exiled from his homeland for 35 years. It’s not only on Facebook that the name of ‘friend’ is frequently taken in vain.
Not everything can be readily fixed; it’s often complicated, to a greater or lesser extent, and equally hinges on the other person’s willingness to befriend with renewed integrity, tolerance and appropriate affection. Without that, wish them well while cutting ties, and losses, as trying too long to mend bonds may only lead to embitterment and dehumanisation.
A warm spirit of friendship, the wish for the other to thrive, is the common denominator linking positive relationships, whatever their form. Just as terrible pain can be felt after previously cherished acquaintances, perhaps those trusted the most, inflict betrayal or neglect, joy and optimism follow positive regard from fond companions. Good friends can be as nourishing as food. In tight spots, their presence and encouragement can even amount to the reason to go on.
Studies of immune function prove the beneficial effects of the company of genuine carers, although new patients and those recently shocked unfortunately may retreat from contact in fear of being a nuisance, just when social support is most important. On the other side, friends and helpers might back off too, unsure of how to assist, but when specific steps that can be taken to help are clearly communicated, responses are almost unfailingly generous. Prognoses of hard times have been clinically shown to improve with positive input, so pick the stalwarts from current affiliates, or waste no time seeking out new candidates. It makes a big difference. The inter-dependence of human beings makes it important to know who can be relied upon, and how to reciprocate. Love may wax and wane even as it fuels the heart.