On the value of friendship

February 13, 2011 | By | Reply More

In the Wilson Quarterly, Daniel Akst writes about the importance of friendship and the fact that modern distractions are seducing Americans into failing to appreciate or maintain valuable friendships. He defines friendship as “a state of strong mutual affection in which sex or kinship isn’t primary.” What are the important things that friends do?

It’s available to everyone, offering concord and even intimacy without aspiring to be all-consuming. Friends do things for us that hardly anybody else can, yet ask nothing more than friendship in return (though this can be a steep price if we take friendship as seriously as we should).

Here are the disturbing statistics. Half of American adults are unmarried and more than a quarter live alone. A recent survey shows that Americans had one third fewer friends than we did two decades earlier. “A quarter of us had no such confidants at all.” None of this is surprising given that so many of us find ourselves rushing around working so that we can afford things we don’t really need. Akst also cites to the work of Barbara Ehrenreich, who suggest that we fail to develop friendships like we used to because it takes too much of an investment. She blames the “cult of conspicuous busyness” which we pursue to attain “status and perverse comfort even as it alienates us from one another.” Stir in children, spouses and our all too willingness to move in search of jobs that pay more, and we have a social environment that is downright hostile to friendships. None of this is mitigated by the 130 “friends” that the average Facebook user has.

What are we doing in search of this mutual affection in the absence of friends? We have lots of talk therapists, of course. As Akst notes, Americans also own immense numbers of non-human pets, and these seem to be serving as substitutes for friends.

Akst has written a thoughtful piece on friendship in which he stirs in psychology, sociology, philosophy and this conclusion:

[Friendship is] one of life’s highest pleasures… It’s time for us to ease up on friending, re-think our downgrade of ex-lovers to “just” friends, and resist moving far away from everyone we know barely because it rains less elsewhere.

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Category: Friendships/relationships, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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