When “Friendships” Are Merely Factions…

Nobody knows you when you’re down and out
In your pocket not one penny,
And your friends, well you haven’t any
Soon as you get on your feet again,
Then you’ll meet your long lost friend
It’s mighty strange, without a doubt
Nobody knows you when you’re down and out
I mean when you’re down and out.

-Lyrics by Jimmy Cox

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I consider friendship to be a rarity. I have “Facebook Friends” with whom I’ve never spoken, and others with whom I have spoken, but except for an occasional [like] or comment, that’s as far as our “relationships” go. I consider most people to be acquaintances. This does not mean that I do not aim to value and respect everyone. I just understand that friendship goes much deeper than mere acquaintance. The result is that I have come to know the value and beauty of people who play a demonstrative and interactive part in my day-to-day existence, and I in theirs, even if we do not physically interact every day. In just the past few days, I can honestly say that without two of my closest friends, I would not have been able to achieve a recent, life-changing goal. And for that, and them, I am so grateful! The Buddha said that a good spiritual friend is “all of the holy life”; yet, if we cannot find a true friend, it is better to walk alone…

Some time ago, I  relocated to a new city where I knew no one. I soon became involved in a volunteer project in my apartment building and found myself working consistently with “Donna.” We discovered that we had much in common and could discuss almost anything. Her best friend, “Beth,” lived nearby, and she and I got along swimmingly, as well. Then, one day, I noticed that Donna and Beth would pass each other in the hallway of our building without so much as glancing at each other. Donna told me that Beth had stopped speaking to her for “no reason at all.” She showed me a “snippy little text” that Beth had sent her, went on for several minutes about all Beth’s negative qualities, then said, “F**k her! Who needs her!”

The next day I saw Beth in the hallway, I wished her good morning and asked how she was doing. She seemed shocked that I had spoken, but then smiled and we engaged in a few minutes of pleasant chit-chat. Later that day, Donna, Beth and I converged in the foyer of our building, and again, to the obvious surprise of Donna, I said “hey!” to Beth. It had not occurred to me that based on what Donna had told me about Beth, that I, too, should stop speaking to Beth. It’s not that I’m such a great person, but rather that I considered it their fight, not mine. Additionally, if you add our ages together, the sum is just a bit over 175. So, I’d gotten over the whole junior-high-schoolyard-faction thing years ago, baby…

This situation went on for three weeks until Donna got angry at me for dropping out of the volunteer project and we stopped speaking to each other. Immediately, Beth started speaking to Donna, and they were, once again, best friends. Then, the next time I saw Beth, with whom I had never stopped speaking, I said, “Good morning!” and she did not respond. Giving her the benefit of a doubt, I assumed she had not heard me and again spoke to her later in the day. Again, she did not respond. Another woman told me that I should keep speaking to Beth and “force” her to say hello. Instead, I chose to stop speaking, as well, because I do not believe in trying to force anyone to do anything. I also understood that I was dealing with people who consider friendships to be “factions.”

The primary definition of “faction” is “a group of people in an organization working in a common cause against the main body.” For Donna and Beth, I had become the “main body.” Also, due to my prior experience with Donna, I knew that she was probably now referring to me as a “b**ch,” and complaining about all my little annoying habits, imperfections, and fatal flaws. I’m thinking about this as I read the book, Divergent. If you don’t know the story, it’s a fascinating and disturbing piece of fiction about a society comprised of factions much more pronounced than we have yet to experience.

Remember Denzel Washington’s role as the attorney in the movie, Philadelphia? Whenever he wanted to understand something, well, he’d say, “Explain this to me like I’m a two-year-old.” Well, dear reader, I’ve got some bad news for you. Explaining this to you like you’re a two-year-old is not what I’m about to do because I don’t quite get it myself. I do understand how a man might stop speaking to his wife’s friend after she stops speaking to her. He doesn’t want to find himself “cut off” for several weeks or months… But in general, why would all, or most, of this woman’s grown-ass friends stop speaking to the object of her disaffection, as well? And mind you, I’m talking about adult women, not junior high girls. That, I get.

If I have a choice, I don’t let others make up my mind for me. If a conversation takes place between two people, and I was not anywhere in the vicinity, or one of those two people conversing with each other, the only thing I can “assume” is that I don’t know what happened, or what was said. Also, if I have an ounce of intelligence, I know that when someone is angry with someone else, they will often try to make the object of their anger look wrong, stupid, or unworthy, and expect their “friends” to support them. And with reference to the Noble Eightfold Path, this violates Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Effort, and Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration i.e., like, all but one step on the Path…

Obviously, there are exceptions. The object of someone’s anger could be a former abuser; a well-known busybody; or someone who has established him- or herself to be insane, a criminal, or dangerous in some other way. I “get” that. What I don’t get is why people shun others for no other reason than that of being told that they should do so… Even in our courts of law, which often fail miserably, a person is supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Perhaps besides criminal and civil courts, we need “friendship” courts…

Though we may not all believe in karma, we do all believe in “seed technology,” the theory that if one plants a certain type of seed, given the right conditions, a certain type of plant will grow. If we plant a seed of hate or discord, and the tree thrives, we might find ourselves freezing to death in its shade. And even if we, ourselves, do not plant that seed, we share responsibility for “watering” it. Forming factions is divisive, dangerous, and just plain childish; and any friendship based on faction-forming is a fatally-flawed encounter, not a friendship. The wise understand that everyone comes into their lives to teach them something. Some of those people will stay; others are just passing through. In Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, by Jack Kornfield, he says (in a quotation often erroneously attributed to The Buddha):

Imagine that every person in the world is enlightened but you. They are all your teachers, each doing just the right things to help you learn perfect patience, perfect wisdom, perfect compassion.

If we can remember this, we have less of the feeling that our lives are constantly under siege. We can even feel thankful for the opportunity to progress in our practices.We will be less likely to say, “S/he makes me so angry,” and more likely to realize that we, instead, often allow ourselves to become angry. Personally, it is the people who have “hurt” me most that have shown me my own large-scale weaknesses and foibles. Additionally, people who already know this “secret” have an option for dealing with their so-called “enemies.” They  can choose to take a close look at themselves before running out and seeking to recruit all their “friends” into committing a “hate crime” in support of their own overblown egos and hurt feelings.

Today, I will remember that just as “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” friends do not require each other to take on the added burden of another’s hate or insecurity…



Facebook “Friends”…

On January 1, 2016, I un-friended most of my Facebook “friends.” It wasn’t because I was angry with them, wished them any ill-will, or sought to cause any of them to “feel the pain.” In fact, to date, I would (if I were a betting woman) lay odds that not a single one has yet noticed that they are gone…

“What happened?” you ask. Of course I’m referring not to those I un-friended because as I said, I doubt they’ve yet noticed. Well, as with many people, the end of one year/beginning of another is a time of reflection for me. And what I’d noticed was that not only were “we” not in anything that could be defined as a relationship, much less “friendship;” but also that I had been not a “Facebook Friend,” but a “Facebook Flunky.” I had become merely one of a constellation of others revolving around those who were more interested in talking about themselves, and their concerns, than they were interested in talking about others’ concerns, or at least, mine. And to a large extent, they were very successful in maintaining that imbalance of power…

So, I un-friended everyone who had:

1. Never so much as “liked” anything on my page in 2015;
2. “liked” only the posts of theirs that I’d shared on my page;
3. “liked” only the comments of mine that I’d shared on their page, and/or
4. never indicated that they shared my interests in social justice, good books, poetry, good humor, rescued animals, good recipes, music, movies, international politics, or the like.

Here would be a good place to indicate that I’ve never posted vulgarity, updates on the progress of my post-nasal drip, embarrassing photos of myself or others, chain letters, hate speech, or anything else from anyone else that I’ve considered to be the equivalents of the aforementioned, or worse. The exceptions to the group of people I un-friended were a group of Buddhist nuns whom I consider “sangha,” and can hardly expect to engage in bull sessions about such topics as my unhappiness with Governor Rick Snyder and his “water crisis” in Flint, MI. I’m from Flint, MI, though I now reside in New York State; and of course people whom I either consider a friend, potential friend, or with whom I simply have a well-forged, longstanding, true connection.

The Buddha taught that true friendship is not only beautiful, but extemely rare. In fact, one of his suttas (pali)/sutras (skt), titled the Sigalovada Sutta, gives an extensive description of friendship. Additionally, the Buddha identifed two specific types of friends:

1. Kalyana mitta (good friends) and,
2. Papa mitta (evil friends).

Now, please note that I am not saying that those I un-friended are evil! Far from it! I simply un-friended them because we were not friends. And I can guarantee you that those with 5,678,982 Facebook “friends” probably don’t know most of them, much less regularly correspond and show love, caring, or concern for each other, either.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that even though blood is thicker than water, many of us could use a transfusion, and there is still much more water than blood in the world. I’ve come to realize that a true friend is a rare find. And finally, I have come to understand more about the depth and breadth of the Buddha’s statement, in the Khaggavisana Sutta as translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (c) 1997:

“People follow & associate
for a motive.
Friends without a motive these days
are rare.
They’re shrewd for their own ends, & impure.
Wander alone
like a rhinoceros.”

Now, it’s my understanding that the Buddha used the term “swordhorn” instead of rhinoceros. And that interestingly enough, Indian rhinos, unlike African rhinos, have only one horn, and apparently neither species truly “wanders”… But I digress, however purposefully…

As the years have passed, I have become very particular about whose company I keep. The Buddha said that true friends are a vital part of our spiritual path; but he did not define them as those who get drunk with us; those who hate the same people we hate; those who tell us only what we want to hear, or even as essential. He said that for some, “traveling alone, like a swordhorn” is the better path. Yet, fear of the solitary, of alone-ness, is why people keep bad company from running buddies to spouses…

I’d like to close with a quotation, attributed to motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, of which I’m paticularly fond:

“We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.”

In 2016, I decided it was time to do the math. I believe, with the Buddha, that people are either your friends, or they are not. This doesn’t mean that not-friends might not be on the way to becoming friends, but only that a lot can happen between those two points. And if you’re not my friend, you’re not necessarily an enemy. But enemies are truly overrated, anyhow. No one can do as much damage to a person as him- or herself. So, as far as I’m concerned, if you’re not my friend, you’re an acquaintance. And as for relatives, many of mine are how I learned the meaning of the saying, “Sometimes, you’ve got to make your own family.” Not only is that possible, it’s the damned truth. And yes, I realize that that has to do with my karma, but we must bloom where we are planted…

Finally, I’ve unfriended many folks because I tired of reading “updates” like “Just made myself a ham and cheese sandwich, and boy, does Velveeta make a difference,” or “My dog just puked,” and my all-time “favorite” (and the reason I actually once completely left Facebook for a period of time) had to do with someone’s report of a vaginal discharge. And she wasn’t being “educational,” she actually admitted that she just felt like venting. And bless their hearts, a day-long discussion ensued. I mean, honey, they blew up my cell phone. Yet, people have posted suicide ‘notices’ to Facebook and not received a response. Seriously?

Friends are holy and rare. I refuse to cheapen that fact in any way, anymore…

Recommended Readings:

Everyone Hates Facebook, But We Can’t Leave from Washington Post.com

Khaggavisana Sutta: A Rhinoceros from Access To Insight.org

Making Friends: Buddhist Style by Vijay Menon on Medium.com

Sigalovada Sutta: The Discourse to Sigala – The Layperson’s Code of Discipline from Access To Insight.org