The term 'friend' has taken on a whole new meaning since the emergence into our world of social meejya, most especially Facebook. If you trawl through my Facebook account, you will note two things: the first is that you will feel sullied, the second that I have many hundreds of 'friends'.
Pish and pother!
It just ain't true, though if you have arrived on this site from Facebook, you are definitely one of my closest muckers. I just love you, man! The thing is this, 'friend' means something different in some circles than it used to. Nowadays, it can include those we loathe and stalk us through our accounts on the internet (but who we 'accepted' carelessly after wine), those we never got on with at work, family so distant that only a surname connects us, people we passed in the street, and people who visit blogs and other things. There are two levels of 'friend' nowadays - those with whom we have an electronic contact or ...
... people we have actually met, know and like - and who have met, know and like us, like in the olden days. I was at a training course for fledgling school governors recently, and in that room there was a woman who was becoming gusset-rotated about the use of the term 'critical friend' when describing the governor's relationship to their school. She thought it wrong, inappropriate. A right old state she was in. She didn't offer an alternative, to the best of my knowledge (though, that said, after she mentioned it a fourth time I lost the will to live).
I pondered this, as is my wont, and then filed the thought. It emerged yesterday when I baptised two little lads. It is my custom to acknowledge the godparents and thank them for what they have agreed to do and be. I point out that family is not chosen, but godparents are. The same is true of friends (in the real-world sense of the word).
In ministry, there is a debate that argues whether a priest/minister should have friends from within their parish communities, or whether that is inappropriate. The alternative is that we are required to be friendly with everyone, but friends with no-one. That is a different post. The concern implicit in that debate is that friends take on an enhanced role in the life of their opposite number. In other words, having a friend at church disadvantages those who are not in that circle.
To me, friends are chosen. They are chosen after a period of learning between two people. Friends are not only chosen but are there by choice. Equality, mutuality, shared interests and values - they are glue in a friendship. To take the argument about governors a step further, were we to be 'critical colleagues' it would infer a financial bond, a care only bound up in the immediate working environment. The term friend in that context refers, I think, to choice and freely given time. Friends do not count the cost, mostly do things for right and good reasons and have the very best of intentions at heart. 'Colleagues' must add the dimension of the 'needs of the business', are largely called to count the cost and make account, and are there because they should be. All this speaks of motivational factors.
In real life, I have about 20 friends. They can depend on me and I can depend on them. I trust them and they trust me. If they are critical, they are so that I may end up in a better situation, not to enhance our mutual position. These are just jottings about little semantic touches, but cause me think often about the language that we use. Don't even get me started on 'followers' - I am not your leader.