Kate and Sue are friends. They enjoy each other’s company, talking with one another, and appreciate what they see in each other. Kate feels she learns a lot from Sue. Kate cares very much for Sue and has learned how to make Sue feel better when she is feeling down. Sue is not naturally or readily open about what is bothering her; but Kate has learned how to draw her out when she feels that Sue wants to talk. Sometimes she pushes Sue too hard and is rebuffed by her, in a not especially sensitive way. Kate is hurt by such rebuffs. But more often Sue is glad to have such a good friend to talk to, and is grateful for Kate’s concern for her, and for Kate’s initiative in getting her to talk.
Kate and Sue are comfortable with each other. They feel able to ‘be themselves’ with each other, more so than with most other people. They trust each other and know that the other will treat matters of personal importance seriously. They care deeply for each other, and they each know, understand, and appreciate this concern. Kate and Sue are willing to go to great lengths to help each other out. When Kate is troubled about something Sue is concerned too; and vice versa. Sue thinks about how to help Kate out.
The relationship between Sue and Kate was not always so close. They came to know each other gradually. The caring within a friendship is built up on a basis of knowledge, trust, and intimacy. One understands one’s friend’s good through knowing them well. In genuine friendship, one gives much of oneself, unselfishly, to one’s friend, as part of caring. It is a necessary feature of such altruistic emotions that they involve a willingness to sacrifice some of our own interests, comfort, or convenience, for the sake of another’s good.
Attaining such a deep level of friendship, in which the parties mean a great deal to one another and ease deeply for one another, often involves obstacles and difficulties, the overcoming of which requires effort. One friend disappoints the other, or feels let down by her; they misunderstand each other. Such happenings within the history of a friendship can lead to a distancing and weakening of the bonds between the friends. Or they can constitute tests of the relationship, which ultimately strengthen the ties and deepen the meaning of the friendship. It is difficult to conceive of a deep friendship which does not involve some such effort and struggle. Nevertheless, it is not such effort and struggle in its own right which grounds the moral significance of friendship.
It is the genuine care for another person which constitutes a moral activity of the self, not primarily the exertion of will or effort which might have gone into the development of that caring. In caring we, as it were, go out from ourselves to another person; we give of ourselves; we affirm the friend in her own right. Effort and will are not required for the activity essential to morality. Thus, in a friendship in which the parties care deeply for each other but in which the relationship has developed without much pain, difficulty, effort, and struggle, there is still great moral merit in the caring.
Adapted from “Friendship, Altruism, and Morality” by L. Blum. Published by Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1980.
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