Sunday, March 25, 2007

You're just egging me on...

I was asked for a definition of what I consider "work" in a relationship (that is, the definition I was using in my Amicus vs. Animus posts). Since lists 46 definitions for the word (not counting sub-definitions), I think it's only fair if this post does the same...just kidding.

In as few words as possible, here is my definition: work is that action which exceeds what we are pleased to contribute in a relationship. That's a very broad definition, and could include any number of things — turning off the radio during your favorite song, humbling yourself to make an apology, accepting help when offered, not shaving your cat when he jumps directly into a pile of newly cleaned and de-haired clothes — but I think this is the source of many conflicts in relationships. Conflict doesn't result from the things we are happy to do for each other. ("Honey, could you please watch the football game?" Fight ensues. Okay, well maybe it would in my house.)

In physics, work is defined as taking place when a force exerted on an object results in motion in (paraphrasing now) the general direction of the force. What do you have when a force acts on an object that doesn't move in response? Pressure, another source of conflict in relationships. (For an example of force that does not result in work, consider the pressure on my chest that wakes me up when my cat jumps onto my bed in the middle of the night dragging his favorite toy – the belt from my old bathrobe – and wants to play. The conflict: though I don't get up to play, I don't get to sleep either.)

Armed now with this excellent definition of "work" (saying so myself), think about the things in your relationships you think of as work. How does that feeling vary from relationship to relationship? I can think of some people for whom I would consider giving a ride to the airport work, and a much larger number (happily) for whom I would consider it a privilege. That all makes it sound like I think the characterization of effort as work depends on the level of devotion in the relationship and I say, "Absolutely! (Among other things.)" So when does an action cease to be work? When something changes; when you get to know the person better or in a more positive way, when your attitude toward people in general changes, when the circumstances surrounding the event change or — and this is the key one — when you change to become the kind of person who does not consider whatever-it-is work.

Here's my best example: my relationship with God. I have alluded to a relationship with God a couple of times in my previous posts as being the ultimate form of friendship. I love God, but I notice that as my intimacy with him changes, my willingness and desire to do things like study my Bible or serve others (God being the true object of that service) also changes. When I put off doing those things for reasons like "too tired," "not enough time" or "just don't want to," my intimacy with God changes and my whole perspective changes along with it. As I learn (and relearn, and relearn, and relearn, and...) to devote my time, effort and self to him on a regular and continual basis, he forms me more into the kind of person who is pleased to do those things, and they stop being work — until the next time I need to relearn it. Such is the process of sanctification.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007


Proposition: Diet Pepsi is the most excellent beverage.
Proposition: Water is a lesser form of beverage.
Proposition: Diet Pepsi costs money.

Conclusion: Water must necessarily cost money as well.

Beside being demonstrably untrue at most American restaurants, that is simply an invalid conclusion, logically speaking.


Amicus vs. Animus: A Clarification

Let me first say that in my previous post I did not exactly address (though I claimed to) the intent of the quote I referenced. You have heard the saying, "The doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient, and an even bigger fool for a doctor"? Well, in my case, a writer who edits himself...

Here again is the quote:

"I'm sick to death of this idea that friendship is work, that it's some grand project that comes together over months or years or decades. Knowing someone for a long time doesn't mean you're their friend, and meeting someone for the first time doesn't mean you aren't. Everything is work for us. Everything is a process. We're a sad, sick, demented people, you know that? We could stand to improve."
- From Bloom, by Wil McCarthy
This quote, in the context of the novel, arose out of a situation in which the character being spoken to was reluctant to call herself a friend of the speaker, because they hadn't known each other very long. In that context, I agree with the quote. Placing limitations such as duration or physical proximity on a relationship is ridiculous at best, comes from fear, and speaks of an inherent distrust. I know of at least one relationship which would never have existed had such limitations been enforced. In a less direct context — that is, the quote as it reminded me of related situations in my personal life — I had to think it through for a while (three weeks in this case) to get a firmer handle on what I actually think about the question, "Does/should friendship involve work?" On that question my agreement with the quote is far more mixed, as I described.

That is what I should have said in my previous post to more clearly define the question I was attempting to address. I could go back and edit it, but instead I am going to leave it up as an example of bad (and badly edited) writing. Now that all that has been said, I can better answer these questions:

Does this mean that you are now accepting the idea that friendship is work?

(By the same logic, is marriage (the ultimate friendship we can have in life (except for Christ)), also something that should be devoid of work? I think most people would tell you the opposite there, and, since that is such an exclusively intimate form of friendship, would not the work required of marriage imply that, in the least, lesser work will be required for friendships? Just a thought...)
With the much-needed clarification now added, hopefully it's a little clearer that the answer to the first question is that I never didn't accept the idea. For the second question, I wholeheartedly agree with the characterization of marriage as the highest type of friendship between two human beings (one male, and one female, if you must know). I actually thought about this but didn't bring it up because, being single, I have no personal authority or experience to speak of on the subject. Following from my previous post however, the living out and maintaining of the marriage relationship necessarily will involve work; I have never heard a sane married person say otherwise. (Would I be out of place in completing the analogy to my previous post by saying that merely being married to someone involves very little work beyond the planning of the wedding and saying "I do"? The confusion between the idea of "being married" and the idea of "being a spouse and maintaining a marriage relationship" seems to be a common one in modern American society.)

Here is where I should put my conclusion, but I can't really think of one so I will just say, "Any questions?"

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Amicus vs. Animus

'Cause we're all guilty of the same things
We think the thoughts whether or not we see them through
And I know that I have been forgiven
And I just hope you can forgive me too

— from "Forgiven," by Relient K

What do you think the ideal friendship should be like? Leaving aside the fact that the ideal friendship doesn't exist (there are no two perfect friends), what does it involve? Does it involve you giving to others, giving of your time, effort, attention, presence, possesions, finances? Does it involve others giving to you of those things? A little of both? A lot of both? What level of affection is involved (that is, assuming you think affection is a necessary component)?

I am sitting here writing this a mere few minutes after coming to the realization that the stuffed animal (not mine) which at first impression appeared to have exploded in a puff of multi-colored yarn all over the community laundry room had first eviscerated itself inside the washing machine I had just used. Several minutes of picking fluffy polyester viscera off my newly cleaned clothes was yet another time-consuming reminder that things are not always as they at first appear, that things that are merely functional do not always satisfy, and that if it all comes out in the wash, it just ends up on somebody else's shirts.

Going back to the quote I posted a few weeks ago, I can finally say that I both agree (in part with the whole, in whole with parts, and most emphatically with the last sentence) and disagree with it.

First off, being friends with someone is not work, or should not be; if it is, then there are bigger issues to deal with. That is, merely being friendly toward someone (i.e., greeting them, conversing, remembering their name, etc.) doesn't usually involve a whole lot of effort beyond the effort not to be offensive. You might think this one sounds a lot more like acquaintanceship than friendship and, frankly, that is the category in which I would put most people's idea of friendship.

On the other hand, being a friend to someone is work, but most often (though not all of the time) the kind of work of which people say, "I don't really consider that work." Sure, making time in your schedule to do something for or with someone involves a certain amount of sacrifice and effort, but whether it's giving a friend a ride, helping them fix a computer, moving furniture, or simply meeting someplace for a meal, who (under normal circumstances) really considers those things work? To be honest, I think where the work comes in is not the asking, or even in saying "yes" when asked, but in offering.

Finally, maintaining a friendship very often (though, again, not all of the time) is work, especially over long distances. It's obvious to anyone who has ever moved that unless both you and your friend are the kind of person who likes writing letters or talking on the phone or traveling long distances, maintaining a relationship involves a certain amount of work. The same thing is true of friends who aren't separated by distance. Too often, waiting around for things to happen is what causes the starving death of a friendship, thus the title of this post. Amicus is the Latin word meaning "friendly"; animus is most often understoond these days as hostility and animosity, but is in fact just the Latin word for "intention." (How's that for a commentary on human nature?) My point here is the difference between friendly behavior and intentional engagement in the people around us.

All of those things (in addition to the things I have discussed before, and more) go into my idea of what friendship is and should be. Unfortunately, the vast majority of friendships stop at the first part, and abandon the other two; I do it myself all the time. Does that make me a bad friend? Hopefully it just makes me a person in need of forgiveness. The solution? Ironically: work.

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Monday, March 5, 2007

One Score and Four Years Ago... mother brought forth on this continent — OK, I'll stop there.

So what did I get myself for my birthday? The new Relient K album, Five Score and Seven Years Ago, of course (and no, my birthday wasn't today). My first thought as it began to play on the CD player in my car: "Man, these speakers sound good." Second thought (about four score and seven seconds later): "These speakers sound really good, but the music is great." Happily, I was stuck in traffic for nearly an hour so I got to listen to the whole thing. That's what I get for venturing out for food.

Over the years my opinion of these guys has steadily grown from thorough-but-mildly-guilty enjoyment to open admiration. Finding this CD in my mailbox tonight almost made up for being sick the five days surrounding my birthday.

[Here's how much I like Relient K: for about five seconds I considered buying the "Bluegrass tribute to Relient K" album, Pickin' on Relient K (see link for samples). Out of respect for my recent illness, I decided against it.]