At the beginning of a school year, the pursuit of establishing and forming meaningful friendships often takes precedence. Having people to depend on can provide the stability we need in our lives.
Friendship, once regarded as the highest of virtues by the philosopher Aristotle, was not, in his eyes, a uniform entity. Aristotle understood that not all friendships are of equal value or importance and discerned three distinct types of friendships that encompassed varying degrees of significance.
To begin with, there are friendships of ‘utility’. In this kind of friendship, individuals come together not out of deep affection for one another, but because they can help each other to accomplish specific tasks, such as collaborating on a school project or working as a team to achieve a shared objective. Each party contributes to the other’s benefit, but the bond tends to be transient, dissipating as soon as the shared utility ceases. This type of friendship is, by nature, self-regarding and selfishly motivated, though mutually beneficial.
The second category of friendship is one grounded in pleasure. Aristotle declared it to be the friendship of the young. It typically hinges on shared interests or activities that bring joy, whether it be engaging in a sport, sharing an affinity for the same music, or simply finding pleasure from the same things. However, when the enjoyment or interest wanes, so too does the foundation of the friendship.
According to Aristotle, a majority of the friendships that many of us cultivate fall within these two categories. In both cases, the other person is not being valued “in themselves” but as a means to an end. Although Aristotle did not necessarily denounce them, he did recognise that their superficial nature and depth limits their quality.
The third and most precious form of friendship, as outlined by Aristotle, is the friendship of the ‘Good’. This type of friendship forms the cement that has the potential to hold both our personal spheres and the broader world together.
In contrast to utility or pleasure, this kind of friendship is rooted in a deep appreciation for an individual as they are, with all their flaws and imperfections fully acknowledged. In fact, it is the ability to be open and vulnerable to one another that makes such friendships so special, gives their unique value, and instead of being short lived, these friendships endure. These are the individuals we can turn to in moments of adversity as well as times of celebration, and they, in turn, can confide in us. Such friendships are the most precious. Aristotle lamented the rarity of such friendships, but noted they are possible between two virtuous people who can invest the time needed to create such a bond. They also take trust and commitment to cultivate. In reality, we may count them on one hand, at most.
My message at this juncture in the academic term, as students continue to forge, navigate, and sometimes sever connections, is to reflect upon this important virtue. It stands in stark contrast to the hastily amassed “friends” found on social networking sites, where a mere click of a button can secure a connection that is often just as swiftly revoked and all too frequently hastily withdrawn. Genuine friendships, on the other hand, evolve over time, grounded in commitment, and they constitute the cement that binds not only our world but also our individual selves.
At Northampton High, we actively encourage our students to see inside each individual – to understand their shortcomings alongside their glories – to embrace their weaknesses alongside their strengths – allowing us to feel more whole, in many ways more authentic. Teaching the girls in our care to be comfortable in their own skin and to find a way to live in this world which feels good to them are the most fundamental roles we hold as educators. Key questions which perhaps we ought to ask: Whose validation are you seeking? What does validation truly entail? Is it a form of care, admiration, or love? Does it equate to genuine liking, in a good old fashioned sense of the word?
It is conceivable that our students today will continue to be drawn to the soaring delight of sharing a window into their life and awaiting the virtual applause for it. However, if we know deep down whose opinions genuinely matter, we may finally reach the toran to our freedom.