The Success of Friendship

A few years ago I was innocently reading a book at Chapters when I found myself distracted by the front cover of Life & Style Weekly. This magazine evidently does, um, rigorous investigative journalism in order to inform its readers about the private lives of famous people.

The cover story: Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox (reportedly best friends in “real life” since the beginning of Friends on television) were feuding; their friendship was apparently falling apart. (Boys mess up everything.) In a side column, a helpful editor at Life & Style pointed out that of the six stars of the Friends sitcom, none of them were actually friends anymore. (This was a few years back now, so maybe they are all friends again now? I’m not sure. I am clearly not very well cultured in this respect. I welcome any updates from pop savvy readers.) Literally. The Friends cast were no longer speaking to each other? Ironic, no?

This raises a question: was Friends actually a success? It was certainly a success in terms of revenue (each cast member was paid one million dollars per episode for the tenth and eleventh season of the show), but the paradox seems to be that Friends was a miserable failure at friendship itself.

In Red Moon Rising, Pete Grieg is asked by a young entrepreneur how he defines success:

“Where do you want to be in five years’ time?” he asked.

“Five years from now,” I stammered, “I guess we want to be friends. Still friends. And we want to be dreaming together. Still dreaming.” ((Pete Greig, Dave Roberts, Red Moon Rising (Orlando, FL: Relevant Books, 2003), p. 252))

That kind of response is not going to score very high on a Harvard business exam. It does, however, tap into something fundamentally human within us — something that often seems to be overshadowed by our cult-like worship of status and acquisition. The irony is that even though we have a profoundly deep/intrinsic physiological/psychological orientation towards companionship/camaraderie with other humans, most of us do not think that “In five years I will have deeper connections with my current circle of relationships” as categorically “successful.”

Why not? Why not make friendship a primary objective for our lives? Evolutionarily, biologically, and philosophically it even makes sense…

I’ll tell you why: it is a brutal and all-too revealing mechanism by which to measure ourselves. Let’s be honest: if we started defining our “individual success” by the quality and depth of our relationships, most of us would have to undergo such an overhaul in priorities and time management that few of us would still be recognizable. But perhaps this is what many of us innately desire for our lives.

I once heard someone pose the question: “When you are on your deathbed, what really matters then?” I have yet to come up with a better answer than the one they proposed: “Only two things matter: who you loved and who loved you.” As business leaders, activists, authors, artists, whoever we are, I think we stand to gain by embracing friendship as a vision for qualifying “success in life.”

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