• Friends are for keeps, not whips

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    EI SUN OH

    EI SUN OH

    Friendships are interesting liaisons. Having stepped into middle age, my views on fraternal friendships have, I hope, matured and mellowed over time and perhaps, tests. In younger years, I used to believe in and indeed, practiced a somewhat “totalitarian” version of friendship in both its scope and depth.

    Though having other much elder siblings, I grew up essentially in a rather reclusive environment, and perhaps as a reaction to that, I appeared to have sought out very “rigorous” friendships. If I were to befriend somebody then, I expected myself to be on the same wavelength with that person in almost every aspect of our lives, certainly inclusive of work and play, and often, worldviews as well. I also somewhat demanded that person to essentially divulge his innermost thoughts on these and other aspects, and of course, I would do the same for that person. I thought friendship was about sharing, if not of what you had then, at least of what you saw and thought. And sharing as much as you could, pouring your heart and soul out to each other.

    Over the years, this rather demanding definition of friendship, of course, led me to acquiring rather few friends and scaring many existing ones away. There would be friends who, perhaps, shared many similar hobbies as I did and spent a whole lot of time fooling around with me on those hobbies, but who also subscribed to very contrasting philosophies in life as I did. Conversely, there would be those budding “soulmates” who appeared to agree philosophically with me on everything under the sun, but had quite different notions and tastes when it came to spending free time together.

    Some friends would, indeed, spill their views on many subjects, but others, perhaps due to force of habit or the sensitive nature of their work, preferred to “compartmentalize” their relations. And some friends would befriend my other friends and stay away from approaching characters I considered shadowy at best, while other friends would not hesitate to reach out even to those I deemed wretched and keep a distance from my other buddies. Sometimes, especially during my university years, I got annoyed by all these seeming “inconsistencies” in my roster of friendships, and was perhaps rather overbearing in exacting from them “compliance” with my way of seeing and doing things. When I observed some otherwise fine friends engage in less than elegant interactions with me or others, I snipped them off my roster of friends. I suffer no fools, as I arrogantly told myself.

    As time went by, seeing previously close friends inconspicuously “deserting” me, and hitting obstacles in getting new friends, my views and practice on friendship, at least the fraternal variety, also evolved slowly.

    Nowadays, I no longer seek out necessarily “comprehensive” friendships. If I share a peculiar passion or two in certain work-related or even playful objects with somebody, I will still proactively try to build up at least an acquaintance if not a full-fledged friendship with that person, comparing notes from time to time on the common objects of interest. Sometimes I may share a meal or a drink or two with some friends, chatting with them on life and work-and-play to the extent that they are comfortable divulging and no more. I no longer try to persuade or debate my friends into accepting my views or ways. I listen more and talk less when they are in a sharing mood, but I back away immediately when they are obviously not comfortable in venturing into certain areas of discussion. I try my best in appreciating the diversity of human expressions, some rougher than others, even in supposedly convivial settings. In general, I try to be more accommodating and less demanding in my friendships.

    And lo, and behold, my tide of friendships turns. Now I have an easier time making new friends, and certainly a whole lot less worrisome in retaining old ones. We keep in touch from time to time, delve in common interests, and in general carve out healthy distances among our respective circles of private lives.

    I think the same or something very similar could be said about international relations. Historical notions aside, nations make friends with each other mainly out of the necessity of maintaining peace and facilitating trade, so that their respective citizens would not have to be sacrificed in killing fields, but are instead able to enjoy the fruits of comparative economic advantage. It should not be made a prerequisite that generally friendly nations agree on or force themselves into being friendly on every sphere of national or international endeavors. And they may work closely on certain sectors of common interests, while remaining quite contrary on other matters of disagreement. Or they may totally switch these priorities under some other circumstances.

    I think this offers perhaps an alternative view and explanation on the latest spat or snafu between the Philippines and the United States over the exceedingly “colorful” remarks made recently, both before the Asean summit in Vientiane and reportedly also later in at least one closed-door summit session with both the chief executives concerned present. Despite the unavoidable diplomatic wrangling that ensued, mature and practical minds and hands in both countries must have seen that the scale and totality cooperation between the countries, not to mention the emotional and other personal ties, are simply too humongous to be snapped over some uncomfortable expressions. The rest of us, the Southeast Asian neighbors, are still holding our breaths though, watching from the ringside of a very close-fit arena.

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