Aristotle once observed that close friends “share salt together.” More than seasoning their food at a common table, the Greek philosopher believed that true friends share life with each other. “The desire for friendship comes quickly,” Aristotle said. “Friendship does not.” For those of us who live in the world today—a world of surface encounters facilitated largely by text messaging and a glut of social networking sites—we must ask whether or not we are truly experiencing the kind of friendship Aristotle describes.
This was the question recently asked by Mark Vernon in a USA Today article titled, “Is True Friendship Dying Away?” Many people now prefer communicating through impersonal media rather than face-to-face encounters. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other conduits for connection have become a staple for even our closest friends. Couple this with the growing body of research demonstrating that society is lonelier than ever, and Vernon says we could be “entering a period of crisis for the entire concept of friendship.”
[For more thinking on this, check out author Shane Hipps Q essay, “Our Nomadic Existence: How Electronic Culture Shapes Community”]
Social scientists in America and Canada have pointed out that even though social networking sites have exploded in recent years, the quality of our friendship may be declining. But before we throw stones at Twitter, Vernon says we must realize that there are many social pressures contributing to the decline of true friendship. He says, “A society that thwarts opportunities for deeper sociality, therefore, stymies well-being . . . They arise from the demands of work, say, or a general busyness that means we have less quality time for others. How many individuals would say that friendship is the most important thing in their lives, only to move thousands of miles across the continent to take up a better-paid job?”
At Q, we’ve been observing this trend for some time. We’ve commissioned essays that critically evaluate the social networking phenomenon and we’ve invited speakers to our annual Q Gathering on multiple occasions to help our community think through these things. A great example is Micah White of Adbusters magazine who joined us at Q in Austin to discuss how our environment is fighting against our humanity.
As Christians, we know that friendship is a God-given asset for life’s journey. Our scriptures tell us that a friend’s counsel is sweet like oil and perfume (Prov 27:9) and a friend’s criticism is trustworthy and helpful (Prov 27:6). But this type of friendship—a trusted dependency in which someone can freely offer constructive criticism and knows enough about your life to offer helpful counsel—requires actually spending time with each other. Abraham was called a “friend of God,” but only after he had spent time in the wilderness chatting with God, listening to him, building trust, and enjoying his presence (James 2:23).
Friendship is a faith issue. And if true friendship is dying away, we must also recognize that something that God has placed in our humanity for our benefit is also at risk. Rather than being mindless consumers who feast on text messages, wall posts, and social media, we’ve been called to feast together on life in salt sharing friendship.