The Anthropology of Friendship

We are friends for selfish reasons.  You make me feel like another person.  You make me feel other than myself.  You make me escape reality.  You are a part of me that I am not.  You are the part of me I wish I was more of.  I admire you.  I admire you because you necessarily make me a better person.  We are friends because you make me feel better about myself.

If you've ever taken an anthropology class, you are probably no stranger to the concept of social and cultural construction - that we are a product of our environment and a kind of tabula rasa (blank slate) that is filled by different concepts, ideas, ideals, and behaviours that ultimately creates what we come to know as "ourselves".  We are all created uniquely by these forces and become who we are based on the particularities of all the combined (micro and macro) forces.  I think that at a certain point we start to be who we will more or less be for the rest of our lives given that nothing out of the ordinary or truly life changing event takes place.  Friendship is important because it is social, and necessary in the social world we live in.  We are, after all,


animals.  But what purpose does friendship really serve?  It seems to be something that we take for granted, but is vitally important to our survival.  I thought I ought to explore this concept of friendship a little more.

Friends are a network - a safety blanket.  We meet them and hold onto them because they seem to increase our quality of life.  We have them so that we wont feel alone, and to help remind us that we are not alone.  Friends make us more fit to survive the obstacles life challenges us with.  The difference between a good friend and a bad friend is that good friends legitimately and objectively increase your chance of survival - they provide a service that no one else but them can fulfill in the grand scheme of your life.  A bad friend will deplete your resources - physically, emotionally, financially, and/or spiritually.  An acquaintance will give you what you need every now and again, like a government check in the mail.   A best friend will increase your stock daily, no matter what the circumstance or economic climate.  Friends are valuable assets, but like money, they are no use to us saved away for a rainy day.  You keep friends by interacting, investing time, building a trust, and an unspoken (or spoken) agreement to look after each others needs.  Friends are a life insurance that we buy with time and energy, or what we know as "care" and "love".

If you are like me, you have an eclectic group of friends that fulfill various roles and purposes in your life.  I appreciate all of them more than ever.  My friend that takes care of me, like a mother; my boundary-free friend that I can discuss absolutely anything with; my friend that makes me feel like a kid again; my friend that helps me learn by teaching; my friend who accepts me, flaws and all; my badass friend that gets tattoo's and strips for grad school money (winning); my friend with whom I strut with and feel like a hero; my feisty friend who is eerily similar to me in every possible way, and digs rocks; my friend with whom I discuss everything cultured, high-brow, and pretentious; my childhood friend that I know like a sister; and my friend that is more or less all of the above and always makes the world just seem right.  What I've learned from friendships is that even though they are basically selfish, the mere fact that they are all selfish cancels the selfishness out.  We were made to be selfish.  But in our selfishness, we are able to forge lasting ties with people of various backgrounds and histories, and are able to mutually enrich each others lives if we give each other the chance.


Arianne TongComment