Appreciating people

I’ve been thinking about friendship as one of those things that I want to deliberately get better at through practice and reflection. It seems strange to think about it that way. I’m used to over-thinking things, though. I like how thinking things through helps me see and understand, although I’m not sure how far I’ll get on my limited life experience.

Fortunately, other people have thought about friendship, and people have been doing so for thousands of years. (Well. Sort of. You know what I mean.) Cue philosophy, stage right.

Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics classifies friendships as friendships of pleasure, utility, or virtue. Other philosophers have discussed friendship in terms of mutual caring, intimacy through self-disclosure, and shared activity. Stanford has a neat summary.

I’d like to get better at building friendships of virtue. I generally wish good for everyone I meet, but friendship involves a specificity of goodwill. In other words, I hope a friend like Clair will have a wonderful life not just because I hope people will have wonderful lives, but because she’s super-awesome and I feel warm and fuzzy about a world that has people like her in it. (Happy birthday!)

I think life would be even more wonderful if I can discover this warm-and-fuzzy feeling about more people, and to know myself through them. I run into an increasingly familiar set of people in various meetups or on the Internet. People I meet tend to be awesome and easy to admire. Blogging and social media updates have this peculiar undirected self-disclosure thing going on, so I think conversation might be what I need to work on more. I might not be reaching out enough. Shared activities would be another big thing to work on.

My memory is too fuzzy to trust when it comes to people (or pretty much anything else, come to think of it), so I take notes. In The Spirit of Kaizen, Robert Maurer wrote about how he advised someone to take small steps by simply writing down compliments, then complimenting people to other people, then graduating to complimenting people directly. I can practise by writing down those compliments, taking notes on how awesome people are.

We tend to shy away from thinking about friendships and other interpersonal relationships, because it seems too analytical, clinical, even manipulative. If I can learn how to think about this while being me, though, I think that might be interesting.

  • countablyinfinite

    Some people I know of through a mailing list started a movement called Lifeboat to get people thinking about the value of close friendships for our collective and individual quality of life. It’s not perhaps nearly as erudite or abstract as the exploration you are embarking on but you might find it interesting or with some good bits and bites to pass around :) You can read more about it at GetLifeboat.com.

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