By M.V.Ramakrishnan

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)

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