True, not only personal experience but the chronicles of great men and the life stories of ordinary folks celebrate the triumphs of friendship in man’s continuing search for meaning and happiness. Despite it being ambiguous and undefinable, friendship is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe and is considered as a basic need that nurtures and sustains life itself. The value of friendship in a person’s life could be summed up by Rath (2006) in his book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without when he said that “Friendships are among the most fundamental of human needs… ithout friends, it is very difficult to get by, let alone thrive. ”
This paper examines the value of friendship in developing an individual’s sense of self and fulfilment. To do this, the discussions will focus on theories that describe how friendships develop and coalesce from childhood through adulthood and the implications of these relationships in fundamental social development. To lay the groundwork, some perspectives and theories on the nature of friendship are presented as a foundation.
Nature of Friendship Friendship is defined as a voluntary relationship between equals (Allan 1989). According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, friendship is “a distinctively personal relationship that is grounded in a concern on the part of each friend for the welfare of the other, for the other’s sake, and that involves some degree of intimacy”. Epstein (2006) gives a thumbnail definition of friendship as affection, shared interests, past, values, enemies, and delight in one another’s company.
Indeed there are a myriad ways of defining friendship. Whatever definition is preferred, it is generally agreed that the kind of friendships people maintain are based on the social and cultural context where relationships are formed. It is also widely accepted that despite its complicatedness, friendship continues to remain as a central aspiration of human beings as it was from a long time ago. It would be worthy to start with a classical view of friendship that has withstood the test of time.
In implying that friendship is a kind of virtue and as a necessity in life, Aristotle classifies it intro three types – friendship based on utility, pleasure and on good character, this third he calls as genuine friendship (Pangle 2002, p. 51). Friendships based on utility dissolve when the usefulness of the relationship dies out. Like one that is based on utility, friendships based on pleasure are also not enduring, fading out as affections and pleasant feelings subside. The third kind of friendship which is based on goodness Aristotle considers as perfect friendship.
It is shared by friends who are good similar in their goodness. Aristotle writes that “it is those who desire the good of their friends for the friends’ sake that are most truly friends, because each loves the other for what he is, and not for any incidental quality” (in Pangle 2002, p. 31). Aristotle also asserts that “the excellent person is related to his friend in the same way as he is related to himself, since a friend is another self; and therefore, just as his own being is choiceworthy for him, the friend’s being is choice-worthy for him in the same or a similar way” (in Pangle 2002, p. 2).
As such, Aristotle believes that genuine friends shy away from egoistic and selfish tendencies and are most likely to remain friends for a long time. Based on Aristotle’s views on friendship, Stern-Gillet (1995, p. 37) describes friendship based on virtue as a relationship between whole persons who perceive a friend as they perceive themselves, who know a friend as they know themselves and who are “related to a friend in the same way as he is related to himself, since a friend is another himself”.
Virtuous friends “enlarge and extend each other’s moral experience… recognize each other’s moral excellence…. and provide a mirror in which the other may see himself” (Pahl 2000, p. 22). Friendships based on utility and on pleasure could be explained by the Social Exchange Theory proposed by Homans (1958, in Befu 1977) who said that social change and stability is a process of negotiated exchanges between parties such that all human relationships are formed by the use of a subjective cost-benefit analysis and the comparison of alternatives.
Literature teems with discussions on friendship implicitly grounded on the framework of rewards or benefits of friendships. Hayes (1984) identified four rewarding friendship behaviors: companionship (sharing activities or one another’s company), consideration (helpfulness, utility, support), communication (discussing information about one’s self, exchanging ideas and confidences), and affection (expressing sentiments felt toward one’s partner).
Wright (1985) distinguished five interpersonal rewards or friendship values: utility (providing material resources or helping with tasks), stimulation (suggesting new ideas or activities), ego support (providing encouragement by downplaying setbacks and emphasizing successes), self-affirmation (behaving in ways that reinforce a friend’s valued self-characteristics) and security (providing a feeling of safety and unquestioned trust). More recent literature deals with categorization of friends that explicate the value of friends.
In his comprehensive research, Rath (2006) came out with eight categories of friends according to their role in our lives: builder, champion, collaborator, companion, connector, energizer, mind opener, and navigator. Builders are friends who motivate, encourage, enlighten us on our strengths and truly want us to succeed. Champions stand up for us and support us. Collaborators are those who share our passions and interests. Companions are those who will be there for us no matter what.
Connectors help us get what we want by building bridges. Energizers are spirit boosters and a source of inspiration and amusement. Mind openers enrich our vision and stimulate creativity. Navigators are our anchors and rudders who counsel and guide us in achieving our dreams. The discursive content teems with so much more explications on friendship as a ubiquitous and dynamic aspect of our lives. Kephart (2000) says, “Throughout our lives, friends enclose us, like pairs of parentheses. They shift our boundaries, crater our terrain.
They fume through the cracks of our tentative houses, and parts of them always remain. . . . Friendship asks and wants, hollows and fills, ages with us and we through it, cradles us, finally, like family. It is ecology and mystery and language, all three. ” Childhood Friendships In emphasising the remarkable influence of friendships in the life of a child, James Baldwin (1897) argues: “The development of the child’s [morality] could not go on at all without the constant modification of his sense of himself by suggestions from others.
So he himself, at every stage, is really in part someone else, even in his own thought of himself” (quoted in Ellis 2001). A child is able to develop his sense of self through his friendships as he matures. Unlike the complex views and inclinations of adults towards friendships, a child’s perspective develops from rudimentary predisposition to more sophisticated concepts. They go through four main stages of developing friendships as theorised by Rawlins (1992). The first stage happens at ages three to six years when children consider momentary physicalistic playmates as friends.
Children consider as friends those with whom they engage in games or enjoyable activities, thus friendship is based on physical attributes and proximity. Rawlins (1992) asserts that children at this age hold an egocentric or simple conceptualisation of friendship thus they consider as friend someone who gives them things, who shares toys or who plays with them. Considering their short attention span, friendships are usually brief and transitory. During this period, children begin to develop some social skills needed to shape more lasting friendships such as taking turns, managing their emotions and sharing.
Some children at this stage will also begin to demonstrate some degree of consistency as they relate more frequently with preferred playmates. (Allan 1989) The second stage occurs at ages six to nine years which follows a pattern that Rawlins (1992) describes as opportunity and activity is marked by an increased understanding of the concepts of reciprocity and mutual rather than one-way assistance as they start to view others in more relational terms such as supportiveness.
Although they still tend to define friendship according to physical characteristics and possessions, this stage is marked by growing awareness of the motives, thoughts and feelings of others. Children at this age still tend to describe their friends according to physical characteristics and possessions, but sometimes think of them in more relational terms, such as showing liking and supportiveness. Largely self-oriented and opportunistic, children at this stage consider friends those who share their views and the opposite when opinions collide.
Friends, who are usually of the same sex and age, are those who live in the same environment and occupy similar social status and social maturity. The third stage is marked by a sense of reciprocity and equality, greater selectivity in choosing friends, gender split and relatively more enduring relationships. It occurs approximately between nine and twelve years of age when children develop deeper awareness of other people’s ideas as well as how their words and actions may affect others. Thus, support, trust and loyalty become more valued than simply playing together.
Children during this phase increasingly respond to others in terms of attitudes, beliefs, values as they learn to infer these characteristics by observing others’ behavior and to recognise that others could also learn these characteristics in the same manner. Rawlins (1992) argues that with a more developed cognitive ability, children are able to “step outside” of the self and put themselves in the shoes of others. Now able to adopt a shared outlook and accept differences, they base their opinions not only on their personal standpoint but also on the perspective of others.
Shedding off some degree of egocentricity and opportunism, children at this stage recognise the value of reciprocity in the benefits and rewards of friendship. Thus, their more enduring friendships surpass separation and intermittent squabbles(Allan 1989). The preadolescent period occurring at approximately ten to fourteen years of age is defined as the stage of mutuality and understanding (Rawlins 1992). Because of increased peer pressure, this stage shows children engaging in greater depth and breadth of self disclosure and desirous of acceptance and understanding by friends.
They also begin to understand that there are different types of friendship, from mere acquaintances to close friends, as they begin to recognise the totality of someone else’s personality (Allan 1989). Traits, attitudes, values, attributes and interests are now being factored into the search for real friends who they regard as intrinsically worthwhile and who they relate in more intense and emphatic ways. Rewards are given not on the basis of reciprocity but on worthiness.
Anchored on voluntary interdependence and a mutual personalized interest and concern, Rawlins (1992) proposes that at this phase, friendships boost self-esteem and provides a realm for expressing and trying out personal thoughts and feelings more freely. The intensity and exclusivity of preadolescent friendships, however, may lead to cliquishness and animosity between sets of friends, jealousy, and competitiveness. Nonetheless, a more mature understanding of friendship allow preadolescents to cure differences and prolong friendships.