What’s become of friendship? These days it seems being a friend just isn’t what it used to be.
When I was a boy, we found friends basically in two places – the neighborhood and at school. Weekends, time after school, and those lazy crazy days of summer were spent in the physical presence of kids that lived in our subdivision, playing sports and games or just hanging out around the fire hydrant at the corner. At school I also had friendships, although those were limited to classes and the schoolyard. But we did talk, eye to eye, face to face.
Being friends today, however, has become something different. Friends might gather, but their noses are stuck in their smartphones, texting and tweeting – sometimes to the person standing next to them. Why talk when you can text, right? And with the explosion of social media, we have an entirely different collection of friends – some we’ll never meet in person.
We have LinkedIn contacts, Twitter followers, and Facebook “friends,” some of whom we connect with through other friends, whether they live in our city or somewhere in cyberspace. Used to be a friend was someone you’d shake hands with, or if so inclined, even share a friendly hug. (With guys, that’s usually a quick embrace, two pats on the back, and then release.)
There are other forms of social media as well, but being the basic introvert that I am, there’s only so much “social” that I can handle. The point is, just because someone comments on your social media posts, exchanges barbs with you occasionally, or “likes” a link that you “share,” does that really make them a friend?
In fact, sometimes a dilemma arises: When should you “un-friend” someone? In the olden days, when friends were really friends, friendships did end – over arguments, changing schools, moving to a different city, or simply no longer having things in common. But as someone recently wondered on Facebook, when’s it time to cut cyber-ties with someone that doesn’t act friendly?
He asked: “So do you un-friend somebody who repeatedly speaks harshly to and about your religion or do you just ignore them and keep them so that they can see your posts?”
Good question. In times past, we engaged in face-to-face discussions, debates or arguments. Now, cloaked in the guise of online anonymity, people can criticize whatever you post, be downright mean if they choose. Hence the dilemma: To “friend” or not to “friend”?
Personally, overall I enjoy social media and appreciate its benefits. I’ve been able to reconnect with old friends from years ago, and get acquainted (as much as social media allows) with people I would never have encountered otherwise. But in many cases, calling them friends is a stretch.
Which leads to another question: What is a friend, in the truest sense? We all have opinions about that. We can have golf or tennis buddies, a friend that does our taxes, someone we chat with at the sports bar while watching the game, or friends we see only at church. But to me, being a friend requires more.
I like what the Bible says about friendship. For example: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). If your “friend” is there when times are good, but flees at the first hint of hardship, you might be justified in questioning the quality of the friendship.
Proverbs 18:24 asserts, “A man of many companions may come to ruin; but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” A friend is someone that’s there no matter what – loyal, dependable, faithful.
But perhaps the greatest definition of friendship, in my view, is what Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends” (John 15:13). War sometimes fosters such friendship. Occasionally we hear of someone putting their life on the line for loved ones. Jesus himself provided the ultimate example.
Such friendship demands a lot more than quick posts on a social media site, tweets or spontaneous texts. It’s the kind of friendship most of us would like to have. And the kind of friendship we’d like to demonstrate, if circumstances warranted.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.