Friendship in a Frivolous Age

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Please – tame me!” says the fox to the little prince in Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s timeless and legendary fairytale The Little Prince.

I want to, very much,” the little prince replies. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”

What is it about this naïve little statement that sounds painfully familiar, sounds perilously like something we’ve all heard before? I want to very much, but I have not much time. Isn’t there something here that sounds like millennials, sounds like the hyperconnected but ultra-isolated society we inhabit?

Sometimes when I try to think outside of the bubble that technology has created around us, I’m startled by how recklessly and rapidly everything has changed. I don’t mean the changes that have come since our parents were young. I mean the changes that have come since we were in highschool, since five years ago, since just the other day. It’s difficult to accurately assess or even think about the full impact of snowballing social media, because we’re riding the snowball and it’s growing underneath us. How can we truly understand how it’s affected us unless we fall off of it at the bottom of the hill and get smacked squarely in the face, the whole thing exploding in a shower of ice?

But there are some things that are apparent. It is apparent that although the contemporary age is filled with more words, more photos, more videos, and more interaction than any era at any point in history, there is not more friendship. Indeed, as a college student living in an environment surrounded by constant opportunities for activity and community, I’ve never seen so much social isolation in all my life.

My campus is small. The faces you’ll find here are limited. It does not take long for an outgoing person to make the acquaintance of the majority of their fellow-students. It is a pleasant place and we all enjoy one another. I’m not suggesting people don’t speak to each other or that they have no interest in human contact. It is simply that interactions, for the most part, seem to be stuck on a surface level. There is a lack of meaning, a lack of substance, a lack of trust. There is a frustration, because everyone wants to be known, wants to give trust, and wants to receive it. Yet somehow, few seem able to achieve this. As a result, relationships and friend groups are fluid, shifting regularly, and being replaced often.

Have you felt this too? Have you seen these things? Have you tasted the void of loneliness in the place without understanding?

One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends anymore.

What do we mean when we say we have no time? We definitely need to catch up soon! I wish I could hang out with you more, but my schedule is so unmanageable this year. I’ve just got sooo much going on!

But saying, I don’t have time to spend with you – doesn’t that really just mean being with you is not really how I want to spend my time?

Don’t say you don’t have enough time,” said H. Jackson Brown. “You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.

So it isn’t that we don’t have time, is it? It’s that we spend it otherwise, that we forget how hungry the heart is to connect with the soul of another person who encourages us to be brave and true.

Above our heads are a thousand thousand other suns ringed by a myriad of other little blue and grey and ochre planets, cratered and capped with ice, each one a whole world in itself. In the scheme of things, all the dollars and cents there are don’t really add up to much, do they? Because we are passing away and the big swirling universe will soon forget our place, and all that is not eternal is eternally out of date.

But if I have a friend who speaks to me of what is beyond the both of us, who extends hope to me like a gift and covers over my cracks and gaping split places, how can I pay for that? If I can be a friend like that, does it matter whether they put my name up on a park bench or a boulevard someday? How do we know what it is we want most unless we think about what it is we’ll wish we’d had when we come to the end of all things?

And beyond reason and distance and crises and hurricanes and the change that hurts like dying, there is Friend that sticks closer than a brother, a brother Who never goes away. But how shall we ever come to know Him if we don’t even have time for each other?

The little prince learned it later: how it is a good thing to have had a friend. Even if one is about to die.

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3 thoughts on “Friendship in a Frivolous Age

  1. I am going to nail my colours to the mast and say that I think it is a male problem. I am not sure that it is that modern, after all, Saint Exupery, that great aviator philosopher, wrote The Little Prince in 1942; but then he was French and an aristocrat. And I remember reading an autobiography in which the writer recalled meeting his father at the station as his father returned from the First World War. He comments that his father warmly shook the hands of each soldier in the compartment, waved good bye and never sought to make contact with any of them ever again.
    I realise that I am going to think hard about this and about my own experience. As you know, my own blog is about The Lord of the Rings and therefore very much about male friendship. I will attempt to write more about this there. Thank you for your “Like” on this week’s post by the way.

  2. This is a beautiful piece and thank you so much for it. I was particularly struck by your quotation of Saint Exupery’s words, “there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends anymore.” Actually although no contemporary writer would use the word, men, anymore it does strike me as a male problem, or would you argue differently?
    I appreciate your challenge to take time and to take the risk of intimacy.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts, Stephen.

      I think your comment about this issue being especially a male problem is quite insightful. Although I feel like technology has contributed to keeping both male and female friendships especially superficial in my generation, I do also think that vulnerability is especially difficult for guys and so I think there’s a sense in which it’s true that this is a male problem. What do you think?

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