Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Friendship: An Incomplete Diagnosis

I spent last week at Patrick Henry College in Virginia, attending a journalism camp. I'll try not to be prolix. Suffice to say that it was amazing. In fact, I wish it lasted another week. I definitely learned a lot about journalism, but that, I think, was secondary.

For years, believe it or not, I tried to convince myself that I was an introvert. It's just not true. I am content alone, surely, but I could not stand extended periods without contact with my fellow man. This is reflected in the two times I took the Meyers-Briggs personality test. I took it first in the spring of 2008, and found that was an ISTJ. Frankly, I cheated. It's fairly easy to engineer tests like that, if they're straightforward, to show what you want them to show.

The second time I took it, I wasn't even aware that it was a personality test, per se. It was on some kind of job site, so I figured it was some sort of job suitability test. Not really knowing where the questions were leading, I didn't second-guess them. And so I got a different, probably more accurate result. I am now, apparently, an ESTJ. If you're familiar with the Meyers-Briggs test, you will know that the only difference between those two results is that in the first I stood for Introverted, and in the second E stood for Extroverted. So I either became an extrovert in the course of not more than a year, or I have been one all along.

People used to laugh when I insisted that I was an introvert. My teacher (an ESTJ) just shook her head mutely, smiling. Apparently it was obvious to everyone but me that I was an extrovert. Someone, put simply, who loves being around people, but more importantly just loves people.

Why bother analyzing my personality? Partly because this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, but mostly because I believe it explains why I enjoyed camp so much. The learning was great, the counselors were wise beyond their years, and fun. But the people--the people! Call me a hopeless romantic, but I think that few things are worth more than friends. Of course I can't say much in that regard after knowing someone for only a week or two, but I think that some of the people I met at Patrick Henry might fall under that category.

Part of the Facebook-ization of our generation is that the term "friend" is devalued to mean people you met once and didn't hate. As it happens, I'm already "friends" on Facebook with most of the cool people I met at camp. Time will tell if those interesting, appealing people will become real friends of mine. I suspect that some will and some won't, because that's the way the life is: rarely as amazing as our wildest dreams, or as awful as our worst nightmares.

Since returning from camp, two people have told me that they enjoyed camp at first but now dislike it in varying degrees. The primary reason? It doesn't build lasting friendships. "I hate camp," said one. "Why is it fun to be placed in a strange environment where you don't know anyone? And how are you supposed to make 'lasting' friendships with people in 1 week!?"

My friend has a point. Friendship is built in person. Facebook can connect people, as it has connected a large majority of the people I knew at camp. But it is not a magic potion. It cannot nurture the conditions in which lasting friendship arises. That is up to the people themselves. If a friendship was not rooted and growing before it was "Facebooked," chances are it just won't last. So the question remains: Did the people I met at camp never pass beyond the level of acquaintance, or did they, by virtue of time and work and laughter shared, become true friends?

To use a journalistic simile, was my relationship with each of these people like a hard news story, with a great lede and nut graf that then fades into "details in descending order of importance?" Or was it a feature story, where the facts are laid out in a story with a coherent structure and a firm conclusion, that can last for pages in a newspaper--or even a lifetime? If the former, I suspect whatever connection we had will simply...fade away. If the latter, perhaps God has a plan with more scope for our friendships.

Several times during the process of writing this post, I've considered just deleting it and starting over. I was originally just going to write a dry summary of what happened at camp. This isn't it. I suspect that if you care about what I did at camp, I've already bored you with the details. And I've put too much time into this to delete it now, so here it is. I'll be honest: I don't know why I chose to write about friendship. It's just been on my mind lately. When it all comes down to it, there are more important things than politics and journalism and computers, my usual topics, and friendship is one of them.

I'll leave you with two quotes about the nature of friendship. You may decide which you agree with, and if you're feeling Freudian, which one you think I believe is true.

"Friends, in my experience, are like ladies' fashions. They come and go with the seasons, and are rarely of such stout stuff as bears repeated wearing." --Stephanie Barron

"Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods." --Aristotle



elisabeth said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. I agree with you perspective on online friendships as compared to real-life friendships. I too have been thinking about making and KEEPING friends. I can make them but rarely keep them.
Thanks again for the post.
p.s. I started a blog...again.

elisabeth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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