“In my entire life I have not had as much pleasure as through our friendship during this year, not to speak of what I have learnt from you. When I hear of your studies, my mouth waters with the anticipation of your company; we have been created for an understanding of one another.”—Friedrich Nietzsche to Paul Rée (November 19, 1877)
I once heard that in Love, both stare at each other while in Friendship both stare in the same direction. It is indeed one of the great pleasures of life when we share these intense moments of equally felt discovery, recognition, amazement, outrage, confirmation, memories or understanding with a friend about something outside of ourselves.
There are two very different dimensions however to Friendship. The first, to which I alluded to above, is the more superficial self-serving and somewhat hedonistic one that brings much of life’s pleasure and benefits. In fact, I can’t think of anything that is a more reliable source of Joy.
The other is obligation, deeper and mostly painful and costly. It is the duty to listen to the friend that is depressed or bitter, to visit the sick and shell out for the broke. There is no personal let alone pleasurable benefits to one’s self in this dimension of friendship. To help out friends—whose troubles are often self-inflicted and chronic—is usually viewed with suspicion by spouses and family, rarely reciprocated and generally quickly forgotten—even sometimes secretly resented—by the recipients.
Those who view friendship through some kind of quid pro quo cost-benefit analysis are correct in their calculation that there is no return from such investments, only costs. And when you are in need yourself, those who help will rarely be those you have helped. It is done because and only because it needs to be done. We all like to see ourselves as ones who will help a friend if needed, but as if by some kind of Calvinistic predestination, you are either a person that does or does not.
I do not see friendship with reciprocal benefits—those that lead to a good laugh or those moments when you both go “WOW!” or cooperate on an accomplishment as silly as getting drunk—as something shallow or phony. All to the contrary, I LOVE those moments in friendship! Even if they may be self-serving and short-lived, those are the moments I treasure, the moments I can’t get enough of.
Still, every now and then we are presented with a situation of a person in need. That person may not be that close. They may be undeserving. They might even be a total asshole. But this person is in dire need of a friend. It’s going to be a one-way street. They require a serious expenditure of energy with no return benefit, maybe not even recognition or gratitude. Something other and unfathomable can kick in and compel you to act even though it is highly unpleasant and perhaps even detrimental to you.
You either know this situation well or you don’t; and, chances are, if you do, it’s probably been familiar to you all your life.