April 22, 2021

Friendship’s Particularity

Thoughts and quotes from the book by Martha C. Nussbaum and Saul Levmore, Aging Thoughtfully, Oxford University Press. 2017.

Friendship matters for aging. As it does, we need to ponder the whole texture of a real friendship.

A key aspect of both friendship and aging: the nuanced sensitivity to the particular friendship. Some of its good ideas are the importance of goodwill for enduring friendship; the value of intimacy, and the relief of discovering that one can talk about things that one usually conceals from others; the way friends make life go better by sharing both joy and adversity; the way that friendship nourishes hope.

Its presence challenges, comforts, and enlivens. Its absence makes daily life seem barren and poor. The death or decline of friends is a major source of late-life depression.

Virtue is generous, and does not shrink from caring for another’s pain on account of the difficulty it may bring.

True friendship is richer and more abundant and does not narrowly scan the reckoning lest it pay out more than it has received.

In a friendship, you confront your differences with a focus on important values that you do share. You share honesty, integrity, conscientiousness, and, above all, love. And you also display the leavening effect of shared tastes and interests.

There is an intimate play of difference and similarity, which becomes in the end a delighted complementarity, with vulnerability on both sides. As people age, this sort of play, which requires awareness of difference, becomes even more precious. Especially when people are well known, they become fixed in the world’s mind as who they seem to be. There is a large wooden figure out there, and the real, vulnerable, often conflicted and frightened, self goes unseen and uncared for. Here, then, is the underlying cement of the friendship, from early days: a complex blend of similarity and difference.

Thought-Starters for Sharing

  1. Is making friends a different enterprise as we age?
  2. How do important friends differ in what they provide you?
  3. What important friends have been quite different from you in significant ways?
  4. What important friends have been similar to you in significant ways?
  5. Do real friends offer support, tell you when you are wrong, or simply offer companionship?
  6. What are some friendships that you need to replace because of loss?

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