“Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Would you lay down your life for your friends? Would they do so for you? If the answer to either of these questions is no, perhaps a better understanding of real friendship would make such meaningful relationships possible.
Sadly, many Americans have been deformed by a Hollywood idea of friendship as portrayed in movies. In addition, the Internet and social media also depict friendship as a casual acquaintance with others. The expression Facebook friend denotes a superficial friendship activated by a click.
However, real friendships are based on virtue and only acquired through hard work and sacrifice. They cannot be based solely on a chance encounter, joint activities and personal interests. Two people do not just meet and instantly become best friends for the rest of their lives. This is romantic notion of friendship. Likewise, friendship cannot be reduced to the shared interests of business relationships because they are quid pro quo. There is no disinterested charity involved.
Thus, sociologists point out that American have few friends.
The root cause of this lack of friendship in American is because most relationships are based on the benefits gained by the link. These relationships involve interest in gains not in people. This warped vision of relationships can easily lead to hostility not kindness in times of crisis. Relationships can also be the result of being in a common school or work environment. Without a higher motive, these common-place links can produce rivalries and intense competition and even hatred.
Another factor leading to the lack of friendship is a culture organized around self-gratification. American society is organized like a co-op enterprise. Everyone seeks to make money and enjoy life by contributing to the co-op and working with others to get a profitable return on their investment. The difference of religions, principles, ideals and cultures takes a back seat to pleasure and profit.
As long as this co-op/society prospers, such relationships thrive. However, when times get rough, they fall apart. The same Hollywood mentality that promotes shallow relationships, also teaches Americans to reject sacrifices. Thus, when the time comes to sacrifice for friends, people see them as liabilities. Tragically, many Americans see these co-op friends as a means to an end.
Thus, such friendships are shallow and short-lived. They put the person’s ego in the center of a relationship. Once the direction of the link strays outside this center, it can be terminated because the idea of sacrifice is so distasteful.
True friendship needs a higher ideal that hovers above the two parties involved. The Christian idea of friendship is based on supernatural faith in God, who provides the motive for sacrifice and love. Thus, Catholics love their neighbors out of love of God not personal benefits. They become capable of sacrifice themselves for their friends as a means of showing their love for them.
A friendship based on virtue and the love of God places a high ideal at the center of the relationship and displaces the ego that destroys Christian charity. Sacrificial relationships, for example, are commonly forged in war. They are enduring friendships that come about through mutual sacrifice motivated by ideals.
Today there are ever fewer friends and ever greater hatred among people that should be friends, even within families. The lack of friendship is pushing society into advanced stages of disintegration. The root cause is selfishness and the lack of charity.
The COVID crisis aggravated this problem immensely. Recent reports show loss of friendships and loneliness increased during the draconian lockdowns. Some Americans say they have not made a single new friend in five years. Others say they have no friends at all. Loneliness, aggravated by few or a decreasing number of friends, is causing sharp increase in suicides and depression rates.
On the surface, the reasons vary, however, the root of the problem is the same. It is easy to blame social media, lack of common interests, introversion, moving, busy family concerns for social isolation. However, behind these reasons lies the desire for benefits and the gratification of the ego. An old saying goes: To have a friend, you need to be a friend. Friendship is work and requires sacrifice. However, it is richly rewarding when based on virtue and love of God.
Until Americans suffer like the prodigal son, they will not see the real cause for the lack of friends. Selfish individualism and the lack of Christian charity is destroying the nation. It is time to return to the Father’s house.
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