Aristotle’s several chapters on friendship in Nichomachean Ethics is thought provoking in the way he relates the character of friendship to the fundamental character of the person capable of friendship. In other words, the prudent and just man is capable of a deeper connection with someone else because he has a deeper connection with himself. Aristotle notes –
Complete friendship is the friendship of those who are good and alike in point of virtue. For such people wish in similar fashion for the good things for each other insofar as they are good, and they are good in themselves. But those who wish for the good things for their friends, for their friends’ sake, are friends most of all, since they are disposed in this way in themselves and not incidentally.
The first type of friendship reminds me of a Rumi poem that reads –
A lover asked his beloved, “do you love yourself more than you love me?” To which his beloved replied, “I have died to myself and I live for you. I’ve disappeared from myself and my attributes, I am present only for you. I’ve forgotten all my learnings, but from knowing you I’ve become a scholar. I’ve lost all my strength, but from your power I am able. I love myself…I love you. I love you…I love myself.”
The last line in particular echoes Aristotle’s insights on true friendship. That selflessness towards a friend is the highest attainment of friendship, of love. This type of interaction seems proper to only occur between virtuous people who can be trusted with protecting and honoring the other person’s selflessness love and friendship. Unless, the selfless person is enlightened of the situation and chooses to continue interacting with the unvirtous person. Otherwise, the other type of friendships Aristotle mentions based in utility and pleasure will take advantage of the selfless person’s acts.
In a sense, “the friend is another self.” This understanding of human connection also appears in a common Mayan greeting “In La’Kech” which means “I am another yourself.” The deeper we understand ourselves, the more we realize the interconnection between humanity – the separation ceases to exist. The self-interested individualistic actor of Western Capitalism is disconnected from himself because he can’t understand the interconnection between cultures, peoples, and things. Constant exploitation of people and natural resources ignores empathy, compassion, and love. Perhaps the way out of this mess is not “out there” but inside each of us. Is hope for humanity’s recognition of self-knowledge and compassion a utopian idea? I think not. The belief that change first occurs within each one of us and emanates outwards is millennia old. Instead of modeling Earth’s future by economic and individualistic means – we should model Earth’s future by ascending from the cave of ignorance and basking in the sun of goodness. Society, especially America, is entranced by the dancing shadows of media, politics, and pleasure. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle’s plea to generate and share goodness with others is a necessity in the 21st century. We have to change the system if we want to support all the people that are on the planet. To do this with the current methods is impossible. We have to think outside the current frame and one way to do this is through encouraging goodness, virtue, and true friendship.