Real meaning of “friend”

If another person says that Social Networking Sites are changing the meaning of the word “friend” for the worse, and makes it sound like he is saying something profound, I’m going to scream. As if we have a stable, broadly-accepted idea of what “friend” means. It’s more often something like Stewart’s “Casablanca” test for pornography: you know one when you have one.

Contrast this with Truman Capote describing who his Christmas fruitcakes go to:

Who are they for?

Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed the larger share are intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who’ve struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt. Like the Reverend and Mrs. J. C. Lucey, Baptist missionaries to Borneo who lectured here last winter. Or the little knife grinder who comes through town twice a year. Or Abner Packer, the driver of the six o’clock bus from Mobile, who exchanges waves with us every day as he passes in a dust-cloud whoosh. Or the young Wistons, a California couple whose car one afternoon broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting with us on the porch (young Mr. Wiston snapped out picture, the only one we’ve ever had taken). Is it because my friend is shy with everyone except strangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends? I think yes. Also, the scrapbooks we keep of thank-you’s on White House stationery, time-to-time communications from California and Borneo, the knife grinder’s penny post cards, make us feel connected to eventful worlds beyond the kitchen with its view of a sky that stops.

– Truman Capote, “A Christmas Memory,” 1956

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2 Comments

  1. Posted 1/2/2008 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    But alex is my friend… and I’ll never give him a fruitcake. Nutcake perhaps.

    I learned early in life that people who called me “friend” rarely were, and the people you care most about are the least likely to bring up the issue, unless it is a particular aspect of that friendship or a particular situation. Friend’s no more lost than community. Or information. Or knowledge.

  2. Posted 1/2/2008 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    happy 2008, with many friends of all sorts, colours and flavours!

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