A few weeks ago, a friend and I were discussing how friendships can wax and wane, and from that conversation came the topic of marriage and dating. My friend recommended the book, “Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility.” The first chapter focused on three kinds of friendship, which I wanted to share since it applies to every person we interact with daily.
According to John Paul II’s personalist principle, “…a person must not be merely the means to an end for another person” (9). Meaning, we shouldn’t treat people as just a way for us to achieve our own purposes. Once we begin to use the people in our lives as objects for our own purposes or enjoyment, we do “violence to the very essence of the other” (9).
Why do we not commit when a friend asks if we want to hang out later in the week? We want to be available in case something more enjoyable comes later, so we don’t give our friend a definitive “yes” or “no”. We keep this friend as a “back up,” which is both hurtful to our friend and harmful to our relationship with them. Once this utilitarian attitude is adopted, we reduce the people in our lives to an object for our enjoyment. There is no foundation for a relationship if we are only with friends as long as they are advantageous to us in some way (12).
Aristotle stated there are three kinds of friendship based on three different types of affection that bonds people. The first friendship is of utility. Friendship is based on benefit or quid pro quo. Many work relationships tend to be in this category. The second friendship is pleasantness, where friendship is based on the amount of pleasure gained from the relationship. The friend is the cause of some pleasure to us, and is mostly about having fun together. Aristotle says these two types of friendships do not represent friendship to its fullest because when usefulness or good times leave (such as coworkers or friends moving) the friendship often ends (13).
The third form of friendship is virtuous. Two friends are united in the pursuit of a common goal for a moral, good life, and not self-interest. In a virtuous friendship, the individuals are committed to pursing something that goes beyond their own self-interests. This friendship is more concerned about what is best for the other person in pursuing a virtuous life.
John Paul II says, “the only way two human persons can avoid using each other is to relate in pursuit of a common good” (15). In our friendships and relationships, it is tempting to want others to do as we ask, conforming to our plans, schedules, preferences, and desires. For example, a friend may ask us to look over an application for a job, but we would rather watch TV. John Paul II states that, “when two different people consciously choose a common aim his puts them on a footing of equality, and preludes the possibility that one of them might be subordinated to the other” (16-17).
In this “do what you want, when you want it” culture, I’ve caught myself in the spirit of utilitarianism, particularly when I am stressed or very busy. I’ve also found myself on the receiving end of someone in the spirit of utilitarianism, and it’s often led to the friendship not lasting. How have you noticed or even experienced the spirit of utilitarianism in relationships?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few truly virtuous friendships. There are a few college friends where I cannot go too long without catching up over Skype, text, and phone calls. I find that we share catch up time equally, constantly asking each other questions instead of self-centered updates devoid of inquiry for the other person’s life. We share struggles and achievements of our spiritual life as well as obstacles we face. We pick up right where we left off and it’s like we’d just seen each other yesterday.
Have you experienced a virtuous friendship? What made it different from other relationships that were “useful” or “pleasant”?
As one last final thought, imagine a world where each of us treated everyone we encounter by using the personalist principle. Imagine how much more of a caring and virtuous environment we’d live in. While it is a struggle, we can strive for this each day.
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she works as a Digital Strategist, and volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.