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“If love and agreement are manifest in a single family, that family will advance, become illumined and spiritual; but if enmity and hatred exist within it destruction and dispersion are inevitable…”

It is entirely natural that we human creatures feel the urge, need and desire to connect to each other. From our earliest moments as a species, that feeling had been a necessary part of survival. We have had those other humans that we were born into, and then those that we grew and developed around…all essential to our learning about our special experience in this universe. We have moved through stages of feeling tied to the safeguarding and protection of the family unit, to the tribe, to the state, to the nation and most recently to the level of the world. Many of us may still have doubts and concerns about that last part, because we are still maturing into that stage, and all of us have not been entirely good at playing nice in this global sandbox…all too often it looks like the children’s game “King of the Hill”, but I have no doubts that we’ll get there…

“…This is likewise true of a city. If those who dwell within it manifest a spirit of accord and fellowship it will progress steadily and human conditions become brighter whereas through enmity and strife it will be degraded and its inhabitants scattered. In the same way the people of a nation develop and advance toward civilization and enlightenment through love and accord, and are disintegrated by war and strife…”

Like so many of us who have been thrust into “adulthood”, not really knowing for sure what that means and requires of us, being at the level of the global conversation doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve unpacked all of our baggage and immaturities from the earliest stages. We are quite good at adapting to and repeating the behaviors of those that came before us without asking and putting to the test questions like, “Why is it this way, and not that way?” or “Is this the best that we could possibly do?”

That said, I want to invite you to think about the most basic interactions with the humans you did actually choose to interact with: your friends. As far as I know, there has never been a law system to apply guidelines to friendships as you might have for the relationships of parents and children, husbands and wives, governments and their constituents and many others. People we call friends are chosen or choose us, and the development and maintenance of that relationship is entirely up to those involved, with no legal ramifications to the health or dissolution of it. We apply with all freedom and liberty our “free will” in these relationships…which can make them among the most telling about our behaviors and the behaviors of others. The behaviors we show forth in these relationships very often form our individual models for how we engage with all contracts with other human beings.

“…Finally, this is true of humanity itself in the aggregate. When love is realized and the ideal spiritual bonds unite the hearts of men, the whole human race will be uplifted, the world will continually grow more spiritual and radiant and the happiness and tranquillity of mankind be immeasurably increased. Warfare and strife will be uprooted, disagreement and dissension pass away and universal peace unite the nations and peoples of the world…”

With that… a few questions: How do you define a friend? Have you found that definition to be shared by most of the people you interact with? What are the defining characteristics that you see in your most successful and fruitful friendships? What principles made it last through hard times and growth? What are the defining characteristics of your most challenging and least fruitful friendships? Was your family open and embracing to others or more exclusive in its interaction with “outsiders”? How about your religious community? Your country? I very much hope that you feel comfortable sharing some of your answers to those questions…

It seems to me that every individual is informed and greatly influenced by the information contained in those questions. One might accept an individualistic or mutualistic model of human behavior, a collaborative or dictatorial approach to family and community life… based on their success or lack thereof in their friendships and the friendships of those around them. If that hypothesis holds any water, then it may help us analyze and improve how we interact with each other as individuals and as communities. My personal approach to friendship is as family. I am stuck with all of you, and I like it. Some of the most challenging of you I will learn the most from.

“…All mankind will dwell together as one family, blend as the waves of one sea, shine as stars of one firmament and appear as fruits of the same tree.”

So… like most of these posts, this is an exploration. I’m not asserting that I’m right, but that I’m curious if my experience and observations are consistent with others. We will hopefully have many conversations on this topic to see what value there might be in being better friends to each other…

Oak Ritchie is a native of South Carolina, and has lived all over the East Coast and the Caribbean. He presently lives in Carrboro, NC, where he is working with a variety of visual mediums and blogs at Steady Flow.


  1. Pingback: Family-ship « Steady Flow

  2. George

    5 March, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    For me, every human being has to potential to be a friend. The ones I find myself actively seeking out and enjoying an interaction with are the ones who are the most selfless, empathic, giving, and happy. We can affect our environment, but our environment also has an effect on us. It makes sense to me to surround myself with people who, through their positive influence, will make me more likely to strive for self-improvement and will enhance my spiritual journey. When you mention that the most challenging people are the ones you learn the most from, that can indeed be true. I can appreciate those interactions, but I must be honest that I take them as they come. The wider world I’m forced to navigate is plenty full of selfishness, hate, enmity and strife without me seeking it out.

    I try not to give friendship too strict a definition. Like most things in this universe, it exists along a spectrum. We’re all at varying stages in our lives. While I’m naturally drawn to people I perceive as more spiritually advanced than I, that’s no reason to downplay the importance of my acquaintances, coworkers, casual friends, peers, instructors and colleagues. For me the boundaries are fluid. A individual has the freedom to interact with me as they will. It’s the positive feedback loop, where I like their contribution and they in turn like mine, that spirals into a strong friendship. But there are also friendships of convenience, of mutual cooperation, of working together. Those are no less valid, even if they are temporary.

    I used to stress about “losing” friends. But if I view my life as a tapestry, with the present moment only the most recent thread being stitched, there’s no way to lose anyone. Everything I’ve ever experienced, everyone whose presence I have enjoyed, will forever be woven into the fabric of my past. The past cannot be changed or destroyed. And of course, there’s always the reunion of the next world to look forward to.

    I would say spirituality, selflessness, cooperation, giving, humor, and empathy are the hallmarks of my most successful and cherished friendships. I am fortunate to have the parents I do. They instilled in me a strong sense of hospitality and acceptance, and remain my role models. They greeted every friend I ever had with open arms. Some they were friendly to in spite of the person’s shortcomings. Others they themselves became friends with. But all were welcomed with love. There were no outsiders. Everyone was given a chance.

    The religious community I grew up in might have said they welcomed everyone, but that was as long as “everyone” was defined by “those who have the same particular brand of religion”. The reason I’m a Baha’i is because in the Baha’i Faith, everyone means everyone.

    I hope to influence the United States, the country of my birth, in whatever tiny way I can to remember its roots. I look forward to a future characterized by the Statue of Liberty, not a razor wire fence along a border.

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  3. hedieh

    5 March, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    absolutely uplifting. thank you for sharing oak!