Once after giving a lecture on friendship I was told I was undermining the hearers ability to have relationships with diverse people. Clarity on this issue is crucial.

What had I asserted in my lecture? Aristotle’s principle: deep friendship requires unity of worldview. The longer I live the more I discover just how true this principle is, even if also at times heartbreaking.

It is not simply characteristic of our ‘liberal’ age to seek relationships across lines of deeply held differences; often enough we all want to love, live with, and relate to people very different from ourselves. This is natural and good, to the extent that it is possible.

Here we must make an all-important distinction between a level of interaction possible even amidst great diversity, and another level where deep friendship happens. I must emphasize: the point here is not that a person eschews or avoids people with different worldviews. The principle is in a sense obvious: where less is shared, less can be shared.

Now for starters, with everyone we have a basis of shared humanity. In recognition of this the medieval theologian Aelred of Rievaulx wrote, “Charity toward all, [deep] friendship with a few.” Beyond the respect due to all, and indeed also Christian charity which is much more than just respect, there can also be particular, authentic relationships between people of different worldviews. These are very meaningful even while limited. To recognize and observe due limits here is not to hamstring these relationships; rather it alone enables their true realization. The wise remind us: never act as though you have more in common than you do. The sure foundation of any relationship is to stand in the truth.

The assertion that we can have deep friendship despite fundamentally diverse worldviews stems from a misunderstanding not so much of friendship as of human life itself. If friendship is, as the wise tell us, a way of living one life together, then its quality and characteristics are determined by what it is to live a human life at all.

Now convictions about basic truths are not peripheral in human life; they are foundations that give form to all aspects of it. For this reason Socrates said to Euthyphro:

…[what are] the just and the unjust, the good and the bad, the honorable and the dishonorable. Are these not the subjects of difference about which, when we are unable to come to a satisfactory decision, you and I and other men quarrel whenever we do?

It’s not that friends never quarrel. But the quarrelling to which Socrates refers here is something deeper, something that stands in the way of real meeting of hearts and minds.

Especially today, we must always respect others and strive to ‘get along’ the best we can. To offer Christian charity to all is a further and profound calling. Also, we will have diverse, particular persons with whom our lives intersect in wonderfully meaningful and challenging ways. None of this changes the nature and unique requirements of deeper friendship. Indeed, our life can and should be a sort of symphony of different kinds of relationships.

And to recognize the truth of the great demands of friendship will not only enable these deepest of relationships; it will enrich all our other ones too.

Image: Giovanni Cariani (Italian, c. 1485-1547)
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