What is friendship?

Posted by Dave Winer, 9/20/03 at 8:03:14 AM.

I've been spending some amount of time in my grieving of Uncle Vava trying to explain to myself what a friend is, and is not.

Friendship is the bigger statement. Lots of people are lovers but aren't friends. Lots of people are relatives and aren't friends. Lots of people work together who aren't friends. You can appreciate or admire someone, but that doesn't make them a friend.

We're relatively casual about the word, but sometimes things happen that take the casualness out of it. When I had my near-death experience last year and the following long recuperation, I had a lot of time to think about what makes someone a friend. If they are scared of you when you need help, sorry, that's not friendship. If their attitude is "for better or worse," if they stick by you through thick and thin, that's when you can tell it's friendship. I do have some friends, but not as many as I thought.

My uncle used to say no matter what your family is there for you when you need them. Last time we talked about this, after my catastrophe, I said Ken we know that's not true. And there was a time, in the late 80s when he really needed me, that I didn't come through for him. I remember hanging out in my happy suburban house in Menlo Park, with the statuesque girlfriend, and the freshly minted fortune, and not getting on a damned plane to help him through the loss of his wife. Luckily I did get to apologize for that, in this lifetime. As always, with me at least, he didn't bear a grudge, he just waved it off as not important.

Most people use the term Friend far too casually. But if they had reason to pause, to think if so and so is really a friend, they would realize they either don't know (the relationship hasn't been tested), or they are not.

I don't have a tidy answer about Ken and me and friendship. Sometimes we were friends, and other times, clearly, not. But I guess there's something remarkable in two people overcoming the barriers to friendship that family imposes, esp one as brutal as ours, to find some real communication at some point. Just to connect, for just a few moments, is rare, exceptionally rare.

When friends are full of shit 

Friendship is not about always being nice, or agreeable, far from it. A friend will tell you when he or she thinks you're full of shit, but always casts it that way, never as a statement of fact. It's a fine but important distinction. If I say "you're full of shit" to a friend, it must be understood that this is my opinion only. Further, it's more likely that he or she is not the one who's so full, it's more likely that I am. That's why I cringe when someone, in the name of friendship, says this to me. Usually they're wrong, but there's no point arguing, they're in some kind of trance, pedaling hard to avoid looking at something they desperately want to avoid.

An example. A woman named Bodie, who was a friend of mine about a decade ago (haven't heard from her in many years, hard to say that's friendship, right?) could act as a perfect mirror. I was fussing over a babe I thought I was in love with. Heh. I'd say "If only she would be more like this" and Bodie would say "In what way would you like to be more like that?" Over and over and over.

At first it was totally irritating, then I figured it out. All the things I wanted my girlfriend to do, to be like, were actually things I wanted of myself, and of course were tapes I recorded in early life, before any glimmer of consciousness. In the end I survived perfectly well without the babe. But the lesson has stayed with me, vividly. So I'm wary of supposed friends who tell me they know what I need to do to straighten my life out. They're full of shit. Always. (Almost.)

Programmers: "Too many friends try to grab the wheel, and that always ends in an accident."

Back to the Great Va Va Voom 

One of the really cool things about Uncle Vava was that you could tell him he was full of shit and he'd agree with you. This is one of the ways he was a positive role model. I learned early-on that there's little point arguing about whether I'm full of shit or not. I am. It's demonstrable. So much time is wasted on this. The nuggets of truth are few and far between. Most of the time we're mired in confusing shit. So what. That and $5 used to get you a box seat at Shea Stadium.

Discuss this message.