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…