What’s COVID-19 doing to friendships?

Life and Faith column by Jim Taylor

“Confession is good for the soul,” asserted King David in a psalm some 3,000 years ago.

If he’s right, I should confess that I am not good at maintaining friendships.

About 700 years after David, Greek philosopher Aristotle defined three kinds of friendships:

• friendships of utility: the people you’re thrown together with

• friendships of pleasure: the people you do fun things with

• friendships of the good: the people you feel a life bond with

“In a friendship of the good, you value who that friend actually is, strengths and weaknesses alike, and there is sufficient trust between the two that the relationship’s quality and depth outshine those of other types of friendship,” explained Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, in Psychology Today.

Other authors describe “friendship of the good” as a soul-to-soul relationship.

It does not depend on necessity, regular contact, or shared enthusiasms. Because all of those can change. And do.

You change jobs, or change neighbourhoods, and the old ties no longer bind. You meet; you’re glad to make contact again.

But your paths have diverged. It’s just not the same anymore.

They were friendships of utility, to use Aristotle’s classification.

Of all the people I have worked with over 60 years, very few friendships have continued.

And, I say regretfully, keeping in touch happened more often at the other person’s initiative than mine.

Aristotle’s second category, friendships of pleasure, tended to involve sports or community activities. Especially church.

Events kept us together: weekly games or activities, monthly committee meetings, periodic work parties.

Scouts, every Tuesday evening. Choir, every Thursday. Skiing every winter, or hiking every summer. You get close to these friends. You feel you’ll be friends for life.

And then your marriage breaks, your partner dies, your kids move away. Or, in our current context, Covid restrictions make it impossible to do things you used to do together.

People retreat into their personal bubbles.

If and when Covid isolation ends, will friendships pick up where they left off? How many friendships will prove to have shallow roots?

In the Bible, I find only two instances of hell-or-high-water friendships.

David and Jonathan were more than buddies. Jonathan risked the royal wrath of his father King Saul by befriending David.

Ruth and Naomi seem also to have been more than mother and daughter-in-law.

Ruth could have abandoned Naomi and returned to her own people.

But the two stuck together, and eventually Ruth became David’s great-grandmother.

The other instances commonly cited aren’t as clearly “friendships of the good.”

Elijah and Elisha were mentor and pupil. Moses and Aaron, Mary and Elizabeth, Abraham and Lot all had family ties.

Paul may have built friendships with his missionary companions Barnabas, Timothy, and Mark.

But he also quarrelled and split angrily with them.

Long after Aristotle, another philosopher, a Scot named John Macmurray, called friendship the “kingdom of God” experience that Jesus talked about – something we already have, but that can occur unexpectedly.

The only human context that fits that description, Macmurray suggested, was friendship.

If Macmurray’s right, our protective bubbles may limit our opportunities to experience that “kingdom of God.”

Is there a friendship you could strengthen by reaching beyond your bubble?

Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.

rewrite@shaw.ca

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