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On True Friendship and Empathy Published: Sunday, April 29, 2001 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

Recognizing that people are intelligently and emotionally connected to one another (and to some transcendent aspect of their existence) and to understanding that these connections as fundamental is part of a human growth and development experience. Yet, sometimes this fundamental need that we have (which is also an imperative for healthy institutions), to recognize and be recognize as beings who embody this higher energy and who essentially deserve respect and caring has been excluded from our public lives and has been sometimes under assault in our professional and private lives.

For some people (even that they will pretend the opposite) there is nothing more important than material self-interest. Fraternity is reduced to financial gratification, plus a desire for protection, mutual economic or organizational interest. This is the crisis of the 50 and 50 predicament reducing friendship to a temporary opportunity for self-advancement.

But, perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. The ripple effect of a leader`s enthusiasm and optimism is spectacular. So, is the impact of suspiciousness, cynicism and pessimism. People who whine and blame engender those same behaviors among their colleagues.

When we claim we love our friends, we ascribe a very, very important condition to that relationship. On what basis do we select our friends? We befriend those individuals we really like, but by liking we mean people who give us some pleasure and validation. We do not befriend people who are a threat or a challenge to us in any area in which we are deeply committed. The cornerstone of human friendship is agreement (not total agreement on everything, of course), but agreement on core subjects in which our feelings, hearts and minds are engaged.

If we were emotionally couple to a certain person, we would not befriend anyone who despises him or her irrespective of other areas of agreement or potential sympathy. If we have a family member important to us, we do not befriend people who we know dislike our relative. What ever our approach to finding correspondence and reciprocity in life may be, we choose our friends accordingly.

We select friends, non relatives from whom we have strong feelings of attachment, on the basis of the reassurance and support they provide to us; hence our relationship with them. If we examine our portfolio of friendships we find that the points of discrepancy with our true friends are not as emotionally important to us as our areas of agreement. We select friends on the basis of their personal qualities and the unconditional support they have to offer us.

I was elaborating some of these ideas last Saturday morning at class, when a student creatively asked if there was a connection between ethics and friendships. So, I said, the answer is yes. Ethics is about human relations. It is what makes life human in human company. The greatest advantage we can draw from our friends is not acquisition of more things or powers, authority or influence over more people, but the shared understanding of their free will and spirit.

What does it mean to treat others as human beings? The answer is simply of trying to put yourself in the place of the other… It also means taking the other person seriously… Every true friendship is an encounter, while acknowledging that sometimes language misleads us… Derogatory labels and conventional words cause us to forget that friends are human beings, and will remain human beings. “Professor are you a humanist”, “Yes, I am”.

 


Copyright 2001 QBS, Inc.
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