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The Politics of Friendship

“Today is hot girl movie night!” Anita texted me at 8:09 AM from her work. “Hell yh!! Girl boss”. Anita became my best friend when I accidentally moved in as a fifth roommate in a shared housing situation. I was struggling to find a place when the pandemic started in Canada (March of 2020) as my old roommate was forced abruptly to move back home. I always said: “It was kinda a funny story!” because if I didn’t get on the wrong subway to the wrong station, things would never be the same. It was a hot Sunday afternoon, when I was sitting down in an empty park by my university stressing about the possibility of being homeless, when Anita was taking a stroll and found me there. We were friends before as I met her in my first Painting class, yet we hadn’t talked much until I decided to vent to her about my life crisis. And well, the rest was history. But, having a history means you have a series of ongoing questions, such as musings about what it means to have friends and how friendships act as building blocks for bigger institutions, even political ones.

According to the dictionary, “friendship” is a bond of mutual affection with an overtone excluding the nature of sexual and family relations. The word “friend” with its root coming from an Old English of frēond, tracing all the way back to its Germanic origin related to vriend in Dutch and Freund in German- the essence of such Indo-European language means “to love” with a sharing of “free”, suddenly prompts another question:

“What does it mean to share platonic love for a friend

in freedom?”

The complexity of a freedom to love carries a responsibility of affection and reciprocity toward an individual. Unlike romantic love, friendships are not guaranteed by a label of dating but rather survive and flourish through the enhancement of choice when one decides to continually choose to be friends with the other person. There are two classical views Aristotle provides for friendship: the first being genuine friendships and the other one based on mutual usefulness or where pleasure is involved. Some friendships only last so long that their utility and pleasure fizzle out, so the key for genuine friendship is to endure the test of time during which it doesn’t dissolve.

It is interesting to observe that friendship has the

exclusiveness of a social category. We share the same value with our friends so the Romans went to the extent of describing it as “is to have desires and the same aversion”. Friendship belongs to the domain of social institutions in which the patterns of social order seem effective in the spirit of exclusiveness in exchange for the promise of permanency. To be a social institution is to affirm the social practice regularly and strengthen it by repetition and maintain it through norms. To have a role in a friendship is to

continue carrying an exchange of responsibility between individuals.

Friendship as Social Institution

A genuine friendship carries the same assurance and stability that other social categories are able to provide us with. There is “no death” in friendship as Cicero would say. But for there to be “no death” and for a friendship to be “eternal”, as an individual performing the oldest form of ritual, I too, must take my

oath to remain faithful. The investigation for a standard that qualifies friendship for a social category in which history has tried proven again and again the importance of it. Plato claimed friendship of common good is the reconciliation between the tension of the individual and community. Ancient Greeks carried

a definition of the “Philloi” which translated to friend in which the concern with reciprocity seems to exist as meaningful in itself without the concept of utilitarianism. Being a Third Culture Kid, growing up between different cultures, I have come to a realization that the absence of an individual in which shared activity becomes lessened for that in order for a friendship to remain, it must be intrinsically meaningful.

Throughout my life, I have five close friends fragmented

across four different continents.

I met Lee on the first day of attending middle school

in the hot summer of Asia. She laughed at my last name because in her words it “sounded funny”. Lee grew up in Japan and we now live in the same country, just different provinces. I took the train to see her in Winnipeg two years ago. It was a cold winter of -40 degrees Celsius and we walked across her university campus like a snowball stuffed with clothes as she showed me around.

(Lee taken by me Winter 2019, Winnipeg, Manitoba given a permission by her of course)

I met Evie when she was the new kid in class who only stayed for a year before moving back to Australia, and I subsequently moved to England and New Zealand. I shared with Evie my heartbreak, as she stayed on the phone all night when I cried about the breakup of my first official boyfriend. The phone calls never stopped through time zones, never stopped through different countries.

(endless FaceTime Screenshot and photos Evie sent me across the world)

I became friends with Nanami through Model United Nations. She often stayed at my house for a sleepover as we stayed up all night painting cliche Tumblr art we thought were oh so deep and meaningful. Nanami remained my penpal throughout the pandemic. We have monthly phone calls where she would tell me about her life in Japan and I would tell her about my life in Canada. We continued to

be friends living simultaneously as individuals in our own lives.

(me and Nanami throughout the year)

I met Kartini when we both shared a conference in Parliament down in Wellington and she was crying over a heartbreak. We stayed up past midnight talking about life and all its problems in a coffee shop on Cuba Street. We’ll talk about anything, nothing is ever too outrageous in our friendship.

(me and Kartini with an MP in NZ Parliament + Kartini barefoot outside Parliament)

And of course, I can’t forget to tell the story about Anita, my current best friend who I happen to live with. Anita and I, both share the same passion for the Fine Arts. Sometimes we would ask ourselves about the possibility of being too “ambitious” when trying to become artists or whether we’ve made the right choice. We laugh and cry together, we go through different phases and changes, seeing each other's development and growth, seeing dirty laundry and the banality of everyday living.

Such friendships carry an essence of allowing me to become a person and independent from my stages in life.

(Anita working, taken on Polaroid 600 by me)

The importance of disagreement in friendship

Of course, as a social institution, friendship can’t run away from the trouble of its label being “an institution” in this modern world. For me as an individual, I cannot help but find myself undergoing a lot of changes in terms of my beliefs. My personality is shifting constantly, yet friendship is built upon the old shared values and conventions. There are moments sometimes when I find myself afraid of drifting apart from the known territory to form new relationships at the risk of losing old ones. I move so often that I

take on the value of my socioeconomic background. But what I realized is that in the midst of political division in the age of glaringly bright pink Instagram backgrounds with the slogan to “stop being friends with people because of X,Y, and Z”, I’m grateful to

have friends that endure my differences and constantly keep me humble even in disagreement with my beliefs. As in any social system, a sense of disagreement means allowing your true self to show through in the means of assertion within that social sphere. For an individual to state their opinions, is to affirm a part of themselves knowing their institution is stronger than their ignorance or moment of falsehood in which it creates a safety bond of stability for the individual to grow and interact with the institution freely. Having a healthy disagreement and being able

to hold it in a civil manner and detaching it away from the assertion of feeling attacked is a factor of the utmost importance in building meaningful institutions and stability of individual politics.

So what does that leave us with the meaning of friendship

in 2021?

The state of a relationship and its environment is an interconnecting loop. With the constant change of social media culture, things become much more technology-oriented. Friends become followers and followers can be mistaken as friends. As a person who belongs to a new Generation Z, the concept of a “spam account” on Instagram gives a sense of being known and heard by my “followers”. And yet, “spam Account” should only remain as an extension of one’s personal life rather than “the real life”. Especially, amidst the pandemic, the keywords of “social distancing” and “6 feet apart” became the norm. The person is hidden behind a mask in which social media is being treated as a place to “unmask”. When the real “on” life becomes “off”, the “offline” life of social media becomes a new “online” life that we want to live vicariously through on virtual platforms.

This is what my spam account looks like

There are risks involved with any social sphere, and an online one is not independent of that. With the illusion of having a “safe space” on social media, the presence of an individual online through a transfer screen turns the opinion of a subjective person to an object of ridicule coming off as bullying and a “mob” mentality. It is important to keep an eye on your friends and check on them privately, rather than through the comments section. The pandemic is a weird time to reevaluate everything and at the same time, it acts as our reflective period of living.

For friendship to act as a social institution, a constant reminder of duty and empathy amidst hardships within one individual must act as an insurance. It is falling upon us to build our own institution of friendship in which we find a place for refuge and

consolation to come back to in the time of confusion and overwhelmed socialization.

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