"Without wearing any mask we are conscious of, we have a special face for each friend." – Oliver Wendell Holmes
Being Facebook free this month has allowed me to contemplate what the word “friend” means and what defines true friendship. This quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes could have been written as much today as in 1843 when he wrote this in his journal. As eloquent as this quote is, I don’t believe that true friends are anything but transparent with each other. I don’t believe that a true friend has to put on a face, special or not. In fact the mere effort of having to have a “face” for a friend emasculates the friendship and here is why:
Friends are vulnerable with each other. They do not build up walls, or wear masks or put up false artifices.
Friends are brutally honest. The truth can hurt, but a true friendship will only grow stronger if it is built on candid and straight talk, the type of talk that can only happen face-to-face and eye-to-eye.
Friends do not have two faces. There is a reason that the phrase “two-faced” is used to describe someone who is duplicitous and untrustworthy. If you cannot recognize the face of your friend in any setting or circumstance then chances are your friendship is not built on a foundation of trust. That is precarious ground for any friendship.
Consciousness is a needed ingredient for friendship. I believe that we need to nurture and take responsibility for the stewardship of our friendships. Friends deserve our respect. We have a responsibility to be mindful and conscious of our actions and behavior. It’s too easy to brush hurtful behavior aside with the excuse that we operate in some type of relationship fog, unaware of the impact of not being 100% authentic with someone we call a friend.
Perhaps Oliver Wendell Holmes meant that the “special face” we have for each friend is our true face. If that is true, how can we justify a unique truth specialized for each friend? That sounds like a lie to me. Isn’t the truth the truth?
That brings me back to the type of people that use the word “friend” loosely. If someone promises that “I will always be your friend” and then isn’t does that mean that they stopped being a “friend” or that they simply used the wrong adverb? But if you restate the promise with the more accurate adverb that describes the actual behavior such as to “I will sometimes be your friend” is that really a friendship and is there anything special about that friend’s face?
I am resolute in the fact that friends have staying power. They don’t come and go like a cyber status update or at their own convenience. Friends also hold each other up, no matter what challenges they face. The foundation of friendship is made of vulnerability and truth; anything outside of that is certain to fail. In my book friends don’t wear masks, friends don’t have to pretend to be special to each other, and the only face they wear is the one of truth.
© Kelly Tweeddale 2012