Friendship: in some ways, the definition is very subjective, isn’t it?
One group who I hold in my heart as friends are my former students. Life and geography have in some ways separated us, but the times we spent together were genuine experiences of friendship. I know many of my students felt the same; I have the notes to prove it, along with my memories.
I remember distinctly how I worked to develop such a close relationship with my students. My first two years of teaching, my more seasoned colleagues made sure they shared their “wisdom” with me because of my alarming behavior of smiling and being friendly with students. The conventional wisdom? “Don’t smile before Thanksgiving.” (They meant it!) I was told that I would lose control, blah, blah, blah. They were colleagues, but not all of them were friends.
I developed an attitude and response that is summed up like this: If I spend six hours a day with someone, and I learn, laugh, and sometimes cry with them, I’d be crazy if I didn’t consider them my friends. I made friendship a priority, because without it students would not come to realize the two objectives that I wanted, educationally: I wanted them to learn how to learn and to learn to love to learn. Now, these goals weren’t manipulation; they were good things that I wanted my friends to have.
I accepted them as friends, and they reciprocated. I did not expect unquestioned and inflexible silence. Of course, sometimes we needed respectful quiet. I also wanted my students to grow as learners and as young adults, to expand their dreams, their viewpoints, their abilities to analyze, synthesize, think, and create beyond the classroom.
Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, said, “No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” I like that definition by negation, saying what friendship isn’t. That leaves the definition of friendship in this way to mean someone with whom we want interaction — no silence — and someone who urges and encourages us to grow. I want my readers to grow. (Slight caution here: Encouraging friends to grow does not equate to making them think the same way you do.)
I would love to interact with you more. I write because I consider, at least as a starting proposition, that you are my friends. To paraphrase part of my novel, The Fellowship of the Heart, I think we are absolutely right to have a positive attitude towards others in general. There is just no percentage in thinking negatively; it drains too much energy and attracts negative energy in return. We need to accept one another as friends.
1. How do you define friendship? (I know where it has been invaluable in my life, especially as a teacher.)
2. When and where has it been important to you?
3. Why do we desire friendship as we do?