Epiphany 38


My dear,

You cannot have true friends if you are manipulative. You cannot have friends if you are always a taker and not a giver.  The only way to have a friend is to be one.  The only way to have a friend who is open and honest is to first be open and honest.  There are no shortcuts when it comes to true friendships.

Falsely yours,  Ralph Waldo Emerson


It might behoove some of us to remember this brief note written by Emerson when it comes to electing our officials.  Each year someone is running for office and to do that, they must appear to be our friends.  But what exactly is a friend?  Clearly the man recently elected as President of the USA does not qualify as he has not been open and honest about divesting his businesses not even his taxes which, now that he is elected will become a matter of public record on April 15th.


A 2013 BBC article illustrated how primates select friends.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I said primates and will now remind you that humans are indeed primates.  And we are not that different from our ape cousins when it comes to friendship.  The process has more complexity than imagines and less honor.


Reporting for the BBC, Jason Goldman wrote:  ““Friendship,” wrote CS Lewis, “is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You, too? Thought I was the only one.’” He wasn’t the only one. Plato wrote “similarity begets friendship” in his 360 BCE play Phaedrus. And Aristotle had the same idea when he wrote, “some define it as a matter of similarity; they say that we love those who are like ourselves.”


Goldman continued:  “Friendships blossoming on the basis of similar ideas, outlooks or tastes may seem intuitive, but that intuition is deceiving. Most friendships develop between people who are not family members or sexual partners, so friendship can’t be explained on the basis of genetic or reproductive interests. Instead, evolutionary biologists have typically relied on a tit-for-tat process known as reciprocal altruism to explain friendship: you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.  The problem, however, is that social psychologists have discovered that people do not maintain mental ledgers of favors given and received. Primatologist Joan Silk described the riddle of friendship neatly: “reciprocity and equity are important among friends, but tit-for-tat reciprocity is antithetical to the formation and maintenance of close friendship. If these seemingly contradictory claims are correct, then friendship presents a puzzle for evolutionary analysis.


Goldman also included in his report studies on marine mammals and how they formed friendships, studies that resulted in conflicting theories.  Then he returned to research conducted with people.  “ In an experiment conducted by psychologists Peter DeScioli and Robert Kurzban in 2009, human participants created a list of their ten closest non-family friends, and ranked them according to closeness. They were then asked to imagine that they had one hundred points to distribute among those ten friends.  When the experiment participants were told that their distributions would be public knowledge, they doled out points fairly. Each friend received, on average, ten points. However, if the participants were told that their distributions would remain confidential, their allocations were less uniform. The best friend got the most points, followed by the second best friend, then the third, and so on. As social creatures with reputations to maintain, humans are acutely aware of the way that their behavior might be viewed by others. So… people rewarded their closest friends when they could get away with it, but strived to appear fair when under public scrutiny.


“DiScioli and Kurzban point out that despite the fact that the US traded with China over three times more than with the UK in 2006, the UK is far more likely to be described as a “friend” of America. They suggest that if “friendships are like international alliances, then friendship will not be well-explained by exchanges of benefits.  Friendships might serve as a strategic mechanism for maintaining a support system in advance of potential future conflicts. “Human conflicts are usually decided,” they explain, “by the number of supporters mobilized on each side (rather than strength or agility).”


Goldman came to these conclusions.  “So perhaps friendship only seems a riddle because if we were explicit about the transactional nature of our alliances, their strength would falter. In other words, we might like to make grand claims that friendships are without agenda, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this is the case.”


Now if this is confusing, relax.  Befriending someone can be as simple as treating them the way you would want to be treated.  In other words, greet them pleasantly and ask how they are.  Offer a smile and hug when needed.  Listen when they speak and encourage them in all their efforts.  While reciprocity and equity are important among friends, the best thing you can offer is a smile and a bit of time that lets someone know they not only are visible, they are important.




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