There are a number of virtues I strive to maintain in my dealings with humans. Honesty, compassion, understanding, acceptance: for the most part, people in my life get these things for free. There’s not really much they can even do about it. When these things are reciprocated, it becomes friendship.

Friendship gains an additional burden: trust. Trust is tricky. I’m not talking about belief, by which I mean acceptance of statements made. Trust is an expectation. (I’ve written about expectations, but that post was mixed in with a bunch of other stuff and could do with a lot of clarification.)

Upon consideration, the only real difference I can discern between trust and expectation is that trust is… eager? I mean that more in a programming sense than anything; I’m talking about the fact that when you trust someone, you give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s implied that there is no question of their meeting the expectation. Expectation, on the other hand, leaves a little room for doubt. I expect that something will happen, but I leave open a possibility that it will not.

Trust, therefore, is a very powerful thing and should not be taken or given lightly, and it warrants examination of what exactly is being expected.

For friendship, I trust (expect) that the other person will reciprocate the virtues listed above. I expect that a friend will be honest with me. I expect that a friend will care about my well-being (have compassion for me). I expect that a friend will be understanding (in the lesser meaning of the word: cooperation or tolerance). I expect that a friend will accept me without condition.

By realizing that these things are, in fact, expectations, I realize also that calling a person ‘friend’ is, in a way, placing a burden on them. I think it’s a fair burden for a few simple reasons. First, none of these things require action on the part of the other person; they generally require only good will. Second, if a person should fail to meet these expectations, there are no catastrophic consequences. In such a case, I must exercise the virtues of understanding and acceptance. This gives the brittle nature of expectation some leeway.

In the extreme case, if it comes about that I simply cannot maintain trust in another person to reciprocate these virtues, then I suppose I cannot call them a friend. This does not make them an enemy, or generate ill-will or any such nonsense. That person will still receive the benefit of the originally stated virtues just like anybody else; I simply won’t expect them to return them. I’ll probably be disappointed, but I’ll be as understanding as I can be. It won’t, however, be easy to earn back that trust.

I encourage you to consider what expectations you hold when it comes to friendship. Do the things I’ve described here seem unfair to you? Why? Are there things missing? What?

As an exercise, consider how you feel about, say, birthdays. If a friend doesn’t wish you a happy birthday, does that offend you? Why? What is the expectation that you are holding of them? Is it an expectation that is worth hinging your definition of friendship on?

Writing this helped me to arrive at a much better definition than the one proposed above. The trust of friendship is simply this: the trust that a person won’t act intentionally to hurt you. The virtues mentioned above contribute to this in the sense that they are generally good-natured, but the heart of the matter is intent.

Post filed under Serious Business.

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