By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Monday, March 24, 2014

Collective Friendship : Groups Of People Vis-a-vis Institutions And Individuals

In continuation of the preceding two posts, I have great pleasure in sharing with you today the third installment of my reflections on friends and friendships:

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THE HINDU Sunday Magazine
Articulations -  2 Aug.  1992
Of friends and admirers

In the preceding section of this survey (July 19), we had identified three basic categories of collective friendship, and also taken a close look at the first one  --  viz. the friendship between different groups of people.  Among other things, we had examined the nature of the relationship of different kinds of institutions with the users of their products or services. 

An interesting illustration of this aspect is provided by the nebulous friendship which normally exists between the artistic community and the State-funded institutions which seek to preserve and promote the arts.  Its features would be similar in kind (though far different in magnitude) whether we are considering a local scene or the country-wide scenario;  the implications are naturally more striking at the national level.  

It is obvious that a public institution which is responsible for enhancing the artistic heritage of a nation through its patronage cannot function effectively unless it develops a healthy and abiding friendship with the whole community of artists in the country.   However, the scope for cultivating such a collective friendship usually tends to be undermined by the absence of an esprit de corps among the artists themselves, and by the intense rivalries which exist between different groups of artists.  

The expression 'art' in this context refers to the performing arts as well as the visual ones;  and it includes those figuring in folk traditions to the extent that they attract the patronage of the institution.  Moreover, whatever is true of the arts and artists in this regard is also generally true of literature and writers, with appropriate modifications.  (In a wider sense, of course, literature is also an art and writers are also artists;  but it is convenient to think of them as parallel cases rather than as identical ones).

Visible and invisible rapport

It will be recalled that a few years ago a Committee headed by Mr. P.N. Haksar had reviewed the performance of the three national Akademis of music, dance, drama, visual arts and literature, with special reference to their relations with other cultural institutions all over India.  In a fundamental sense, what this panel undertook was (among other things) a quest for generating more friendly relations between these apex institutions and the artistic and literary communities in the whole country  --  and, as an essential criterion,  among the artists and writers themselves.  Unfortunately, the inherent nature of the cultural environment is such that the Committee's report, which pleads earnestly for friendship and harmony, has itself become a subject of fierce controversy. 

In sharp contrast with this, the second category of collective friendship  --  viz. that between a group of people and an individual  --  manifests itself forcefully in the cultural world.  This is particularly so in the area of performing arts, where it  acquires a visible form in the close rapport which exists between a popular musician, dancer, actor or actress, and an adoring audience in the concert hall or the theatre.  In a wider but invisible manner, such a friendship encompasses all the admirers who encounter the artist on different occasions in different places.  In the case of cinema, the friendship of the admirers is actually with the image of the actor or actress and not with the person, and it survives beyond the lifetime of the artist to the extent that his or her movies do.  This is also true in the case of music, dance or drama which spreads out and lasts in recorded form.

There is a striking similarity between all this and the abstract friendship which exists between a writer and his/her devoted readers.  Where a successful author's works are contained in books, this bond can last for decades and even centuries, particularly in the case of poetry.  The friendship between a newspaper columnist and the loyal readers has a much shorter span of life, unless the articles are collected in the form of a popular book;  but it can be quite an intense one, depending on the style and frequency of the communication.
Perhaps the most volatile among this type of collective friendships is that which arises between a glamorous sportsperson and the sports-loving public.  This can occasionally acquire a global dimension and/or reach dizzy heights;  but it can also shrink or even collapse suddenly.  Such a  friendship has a visible form around the playground when the sportsperson performs in front of an adoring crowd of spectators, but it is diffused and invisible in relation to the total strength of friendly sports-lovers;  in this regard it is like the friendship between a performing artist and the public.  Where a sportsperson's accomplishment becomes a legend which lasts longer than his or her sports career, the friendship is transformed into a purely abstract one, like that of a writer with posthumous readers.  

Classes, clients and colleagues

The relationship of successive groups of students with a popular teacher constitutes a special kind of collective friendship:  each class feels a possessive affection for the teacher, whose response rests on a far wider base.  The goodwill which develops between an efficient doctor and his or her satisfied clientele is another interesting example of the friendly ties which bind a group of people to an individual.  

In the interaction between a benevolent boss and loyal subordinates, we observe a set of collective friendships rather than a single manifestation.  Depending on the distance which separates the boss from any given set of subordinates in the organizational hierarchy, such  friendship ranges from the intimate to the abstract.  But no matter how close a boss and a subordinate are in the place of work, they can never pick up a true personal friendship as long as that relationship lasts.  It is only when one of them leaves the organization on superannuation or otherwise that such a transformation is possible.  By the same token, when a person is promoted in the office and begins to supervise the work of a close friend who had been his or her peer earlier, their personal friendship automatically tends to become strained.  

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PostScript, 2014

Actress & cookess

The above article was written more than 20 years ago, when feminine actors were known as actresses, and not as actors.  This reminds me of my dear father, a civil engineer in the British regime in India, for the following  reason.  

In the last ten years of  his service (up to 1949), when he was an Executive Engineer, Father used to employ a male cook who could accompany him when he went on extensive tours (for 20 days every month)  in his beautiful blue Ford-V8 car.  After he retired from civil service and became  a home-bound pensioner, my mother preferred to engage a female cook, and he always referred to her as the 'cookess'.  

Of course, I have mentioned my father in this blog before (see Marvels Of The Modern World -  Sept. 2010, and Raving About Radio!  -  Dec. 2012). 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Manifestations Of Friendship Between Institutions, Communities, Nations And Other Groups Of People

As I had mentioned a  few days ago, the 1992 essay of mine on friends and friendships turned out to be just the initial stage of an extended psychological exploration.  Now read on ...
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THE HINDU Sunday Magazine
Articulations  --  19 July 1992
Friendships galore!

In the first part of this essay (July 5), we had examined the nature of friendship between individuals, noted the distinction between friends and family members, and observed the contrast between the attitudes of men, women and children towards friends.  These are no doubt intricate issues;  but when we turn our attention to the manifestations of friendship in a collective sense, we find that they present an even more complex picture.

We can, however, get a clear focus on them if we classify their essential features in a logical manner.  Collective friendship is basically of three kinds.  First, there is the friendship between different groups of people.  Secondly, there is the friendship between a group of people and an individual.  Thirdly, there is the friendship between a group of people and certain phenomena.  In this context, the term 'group' covers everything from a small set of persons to the whole population of the world.
Catalogue of categories
To the first category belong the friendship between institutions, the harmony between communities and the amity between nations, wherever they exist.  In the same category we find the good relations between the management and the working force within an organization, and the goodwill between an institution and the people who utilize its products or services.

Under the second category we can count the vibrant rapport between the masses and a charismatic leader;  the adoration of the public for an accomplished actor, writer or sportsperson;  and the affection of respectful students for a popular teacher, or that of a grateful clientele for a successful doctor.  

In the third category can be included the positive attitudes of human beings towards their environment, to the extent that such an attitude still exists;  their compatibility with sophisticated machines;  their collective worship of divine images;  and their prospective friendship with extra-terrestrial life (if it does exist).

This catalogue is by no means exhaustive, and you can find other revealing illustrations if you just look  for them.  For example, where a person maintains a large number of marginal friendships with diverse people frequently encountered, it actually amounts to a case of friendship of an individual with an amorphous group.

Friendship as it concerns animals must be viewed in a special way, for it is many-sided.  Friendship between human beings and animals exist s both in the personal and collective forms.  In the latter case, we can think of it as an environmental attitude, or (stretching a point) as an instance of friendship among groups.  Within the animal kingdom itself there is friendship of the collective as well as individual kinds.
Reciprocal benefits

Now let us take a closer look at some of the examples mentioned above.  Institutions tend to be friendly to one another where their interests are complimentary and not competitive.  Other things being equal, the degree of their friendship is directly proportionate to the reciprocal benefits derived by them from the association.  This is true of institutions in every area of human endeavour, whether they are large ones or small.  Such friendships tend to grow only up to a critical point, beyond which the burden of association invariably begins to outweigh its advantages. 

The same principles are normally valid in the case of friendship between nations.  A complication which arises in their case is that a country which wants to have friendly relations with some other countries often faces a dilemma created by the conflict which exists between the latter.  This was the crux of the problem which led Nehru, Tito and Nasser to conceive and initiate the whole concept of non-alignment, which moderates friendship and hostility alike.  

Another complication which fogs the picture is a certain ambiguity which exists in the definition of the term 'nation' in this connection.  In the whole history of international relations, the people of a given nation have seldom determined its postures of friendship or hostitlity with other countries:  these are normally formulated by the ruling class, which does not always represent the true spirit of the people.
Spirit of harmony

Within a country, friendship between different communities distinguished by linguistic, religious or other factors is not usually governed by considerations of reciprocal gains.  In their case, the question is essentially one of civilized attitudes and a spirit of tolerance.  The  recent convulsions and ongoing tensions in what used to be Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union have proved decisively that communal harmony has to be voluntary if it is to survive the test of time, and cannot be permanently enforced by political constitutions. 

The friendship between the management and the working force within an institution (wherever it exists) is also not based on considerations of benefits, which are settled by negotiations or disputes as matters of reciprocal rights.  Here too the question is essentially one of spirit:  if it is positive on both sides, an undeclared friendship grows between the union leaders and the top management, which naturally leads to greater harmony in the organization and higher productivity.  Moreover, there can be friendly relations between individual managers and workers even if there is an ongoing conflict between the management and the workers' union due to their inability to match demands and concessions.  By and large, the nature of the relations between the faculty and the students in an educational institution is very similar.
Clients and consumers

The friendship between an institution and the users of its products or services assumes different forms, depending on the nature of the given activity.  It takes a visible and durable shape in the case of assistants in a helpful shop, or waiters in a good restaurant serving a regular body of satisfied customers.  The contact between the nursing staff and the resident patients in a hospital is always transient, though physically close;  but the nurses' concern for patients in many cases is a permanent emotion which flows in a friendly stream towards a group of persons which constantly renews itself. 
By contrast, the interaction between the staff and the customers in a busy post office or railway ticket counter is so rapid and marginal that the friendly spirit of the group of employees can only take an impersonal and abstract form vis-a-vis the kaleidoscopic group of users.  Strangely enough, the contact between the staff and the members of a large library in a college or school are also usually marginal, although the users themselves belong to the same institution and are not outsiders. 

Banks, of course, operate at two different levels.  Although most of the people who seek a bank's services are its regular clients, a large majority of them constitute only an impersonal entity;  but banks do maintain a close friendship with important clients.  Many business firms, so far as their relations with clients and customers are concerned, function in the same way as banks do.
Large industrial enterprises are physically far away from the ultimate consumers of their products, because of the vast network of wholesale merchants and retail sellers who come between them.  Nevertheless, if a product is excellent there is always a transcendental friendship between the consumers and the producers, which finds expression in the consistent growth of the business.

          (to be continued)

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PostScript, 2014 
Labyrinth of logic and insights

By the time I was half-way through writing the above essay, I knew this was going to be a marathon exercise which called for much more intensive meditation and extensive reflections.  And as I started earnestly analyzing several related concepts and aspects, the whole theme became more and more complex and intriguing, snaring me into a labyrinth of intricate ideas.  

Just follow me into these criss-crossing tunnels of  logic and insights, and trust me to lead you back to the base with a new-found panoramic vision of friends and friendships!

       (to be continued)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Frontiers Of Friendship : How, Beyond Natural Boundaries, Close Friendship Becomes Troublesome Bondage!

A few weeks ago I shared with you a thrilling story about the marvelous friendship between a black boy and a white polar bear, which I had told in my column Articulations in THE HINDU in 1992  (Stormy Britain, Snowbound America, And A Story Set In Iceboundland Feb. 17).  I had followed that up with some earnest reflections on friendship, and here they are: 
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THE HINDU  Sunday Magazine:
Articulations, 5 May 1992

A Friend In Need 

My Articulations (June 7) about the eternal friendship between a little black boy and a big polar bear attracted an effusive telephone call from an old friend who lives a thousand miles away.  This gave me the idea of making an inventory of all my friends, past and present;  but when I tried to do so, I had a problem.  I just could not complete the list, which kept growing endlessly till I lost my bearings and gave up the whole idea as impractical.  In fact, I discovered that I have (or used to have) many friends whose names I had never even known!

Then I tried to make a short list of persons with whom I have a friendship as beautiful and marvelous as that which exists between the boy and the bear in the story, and I could not find a single name.  This, however, did not come as a surprise;  for I knew well that perfection in friendship can exist only in our imagination, and never in reality.  It is true that on very rare occasions one may come across cases which may appear to be ideal;  but if these are subjected to a severe test, the chances are that they will only confirm rather than disprove this rule.

A perfect friendship cannot exist in the real world because it implies total bondage, which is not conducive to friendship at all.  There is intricate logic in this apparently contradictory statement.  A friendship becomes close when friends begin to feel bound to each other, and the bonds become stronger as the friendship grows still closer.  Bonds always impose a mutual burden on those involved. Up to a point it is light enough to be carried by all good friends cheerfully, but sooner or later a stage is reached when the burden tends to become too heavy to bear;  and when that happens, the friendship can usually grow no further without attracting serious complications.

It must be noted that the increasing bondage created by closeness tends only to restrain the further growth of intimacy beyond a critical degree, and  does not prevent a friendship from surviving in the form it happens to possess at the crucial stage.  Closeness, however, can have a damaging impact on a friendship  --  sometimes destroying it altogether --  when it stretches familiarity or possessiveness beyond tolerable limits, giving rise to powerful negative emotions like contempt or jealousy.

Friendship and family ties

In a way, what is true of friends in this regard is also true of family members.  Other things being equal, there is a discernible correlation between the closeness of a given family relationship and the tensions which govern it.  This explains why the interaction between husbands and wives is normally more volatile than that between parents and children, which is more troublesome than the relations between brothers and sisters, and so on.

There is, of course, a fundamental difference between close friends and close relatives.  In the former case, the affection which exists between persons is voluntary, and therefore always spontaneous;  but in the case of the family it is compulsory, and therefore often contrived.  This may be the reason why one seldom visualizes family members as friends:  for one cannot always be sure of the integrity of their apparent mutual goodwill.  The proximity of close relatives, moreover, is not something which evolves, like that of friends.  Specific family ties exist in the same form from beginning to end:  whether they are honored or not is a different issue.  

When a deep friendship between unrelated persons reaches the critical point, it tends to acquire the character of close family ties;  and that is what makes the burden unbearable  --  either arresting the further growth of that friendship, or beginning to brew a storm.  It is an observed fact in all societies that in general men have a better instinct than women for knowing when and where to draw the line, and therefore find it possible to sustain more stable (if less spectacular) friendships all round.

Childhood friends

Close friendships formed in one's childhood are entirely based on the joy of innocent companionship.  That is why children with very different temperaments and social or family backgrounds can still be great friends.  When they grow up into teenagers they become more selective in their choice, and look for common interests as the main basis for picking up intimate friendships.  In adult life the choice narrows down still further:  for as people grow older they tend to make more severe value judgments and assessments of character.  

Grown-ups do continue to take the character of their childhood and teenage friends for granted, of course;  but many of those connections have a way of cooling off in course of time.  The warm camaraderie which is professed when such old-time friends occasionally encounter is often simulated and not real.  This is one of the reasons why the Old Boys' Associations which are started or revived every now and then with tremendous enthusiasm by some idealistic alumni have a way of falling into a rut soon and rarely flourish.  But profound friendships made early in life which do survive the test of time are indeed wonderful ones, for they are totally free from moral pressures of any kind.

Men, women and friends

We have noted that men have a better instinct than women for identifying the natural limit of friendship.  In this they are also aided by the fact they are usually preoccupied with professional concerns and interact with a large number of people, which frees them from dependence on close friends for spending their articulate energies.  In this regard, women who go out to work do have a manly side to their character, and prefer to have a large number of marginal friends rather than concentrate on a few intimate ones.  Women who stay home as housewives have a very different perspective.  Their circle of friends being naturally limited, they are inclined to put more pressure on their intimate companions.  This often confronts them with tense situations of a kind seldom faced by men or by 'working women'.

Another difference between the attitudes of men and women in relation to friends is illustrated by their approach towards the friends of their spouses.  The husbands of women who are friends usually have no difficulty in picking up a comfortable friendship among themselves, even if there is a wide gulf between them in regard to professional or social status.  But the wives of men who are friends normally do not find it so easy to develop a good rapport among themselves.  In this context, intriguingly, the attitude of 'working women' is not far different from that of other women!

Friendship between members of the opposite sex has always been a thorny problem everywhere in the world.  Even the most innocent of such relationships is not always free from sexual overtones, especially if the concerned persons happen to be physically attractive.  Personal friendships between men and women are inevitable in the progressive working place;  but prudence and common sense do normally inhibit their growth to a great extent.
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PostScript, 2014
 Reflections -- and further reflections

When I wrote the above essay more than 20 years ago, I did think I had composed yet another text which would stand the test of time  --  and I was right, as you can see!  Actually the title I had given it was Reflections on friendship, but it was changed by the sub-editor to A friend in need, for no valid reason I could imagine. 
I also thought I had more or less said every significant thing I could think of about the extremely intricate phenomenon of friendship  --  but I was quite wrong there!  For during the next few weeks my further reflections on the theme flowed on and on, in four more substantial essays in my column Articulations in THE HINDU.  Let me share them with you one by one in the next few days!