The Japanese have a term, kenzoku, which translated literally means "family." The connotation suggests a bond between people who've made a similar commitment and who possibly therefore share a similar destiny. It implies the presence of the deepest connection of friendship, of lives lived as comrades from the distant past.
Many of us have people in our lives with whom we feel the bond described by the word kenzoku. They may be family members, a mother, a brother, a daughter, a cousin. Or a friend from grammar school with whom we haven't talked in decades. Time and distance do nothing to diminish the bond we have with these kinds of friends.
The question then arises: why do we have the kind of chemistry encapsulated by the word kenzoku with only a few people we know and not scores of others? The closer we look for the answer the more elusive it becomes. It may not in fact be possible to know, but the characteristics that define a kenzoku relationship most certainly are.
WHAT DRAWS PEOPLE TOGETHER AS FRIENDS?
- Common interests. This probably ties us closer to our friends than many would like to admit. When our interests diverge and we can find nothing to enjoy jointly, time spent together tends to rapidly diminish. Not that we can't still care deeply about friends with whom we no longer share common interests, but it's probably uncommon for such friends to interact on a regular basis.
- History. Nothing ties people together, even people with little in common, than having gone through the same difficult experience. As the sole glue to keep friendships whole in the long run, however, it often dries, cracks, and ultimately fails.
- Common values. Though not necessarily enough to create a friendship, if values are too divergent, it's difficult for a friendship to thrive.
- Equality. If one friend needs the support of the other on a consistent basis such that the person depended upon receives no benefit other than the opportunity to support and encourage, while the relationship may be significant and valuable, it can't be said to define a true friendship.
WHAT MAKES A FRIEND WORTHY OF THE NAME?
- A commitment to your happiness. A true friend is consistently willing to put your happiness before your friendship. It's said that "good advice grates on the ear," but a true friend won't refrain from telling you something you don't want to hear, something that may even risk fracturing the friendship, if hearing it lies in your best interest. A true friend will not lack the mercy to correct you when you're wrong. A true friend will confront you with your drinking problem as quickly as inform you about a malignant-looking skin lesion on your back that you can't see yourself.
- Not asking you to place the friendship before your principles. A true friend won't ask you to compromise your principles in the name of your friendship or anything else. Ever.
- A good influence. A true friend inspires you to live up to your best potential, not to indulge your basest drives.
Of course, we may have friends who fit all these criteria and still don't quite feel kenzoku. There still seems to be an extra factor, an attraction similar to that which draws people together romantically, that cements friends together irrevocably, often immediately, for no reason either person can identify. But when you find these people, these kenzoku, they're like priceless gems. They're like finding home.
HOW TO ATTRACT TRUE FRIENDS
This one is easy, at least on paper: become a true friend yourself. One of my favorite quotations comes from Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Be the friend you want to have. We all tend to attract people into our lives whose character mirrors our own. You don't have to make yourself into what you think others would find attractive. No matter what your areas of interest, others share them somewhere. Simply make yourself a big target. Join social clubs organized around activities you enjoy. Leverage the Internet to find people of like mind. Take action.
As I thought about it, there are four people in my life I consider kenzoku. How many do you?
If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to explore Dr. Lickerman's home page, Happiness in this World.
By Andrew Trueman
When I first thought about this question, it didn’t seem particularly obvious that equality and friendship were related at all, never mind important to each other. It was only on thinking a bit deeper that I really understood what the question meant and why, in fact, equality is pretty important to friendship. Let me explain why.
First of all, I think it is far too easy to see equality as just a huge goal for society. While this is true – or at least it should be true – we must also think about what equality means for us in our day to day lives. It’s all very well saying we agree with equality in principle if we then don’t really do anything to prove it. Does this mean we should all get out the banners and placards and march on Downing Street every day? Maybe, but not everyone can do that all of the time.
Thinking about what we can personally do about inequality reminds me of the old saying, ‘charity starts at home’. Though it’s old, I still think it has some relevance today. We can’t always change society or change laws and reduce inequality in that way overnight. What we can do is realise that we can be great examples of what equality means in practice.
So what has friendship got to do with it?
True friendship is a brilliant example of a perfectly equal relationship. Think about it. A true friendship does not put one person above another, it doesn’t have a leader and a follower, there’s no hint at all of one person being better or worse than the other. It’s perfectly equal.
It’s actually a pretty different kind of relationship to most others. Parents love their children and children love their parents, but it’s not an equal relationship. Teachers like their students and students will like their teachers (some of the time!) but it’s not an equal relationship. This isn’t to say that they are bad relationships, of course they aren’t, but they are one sided relationships that are never entirely equal.
So, a good friendship is an equal friendship, where no one gets more out of the relationship than any other person. Of course, friendships can be formed unequally – people may befriend others to gain something from them. They may be using them for their time or their money or some form of pleasure. Are they real friendships? I don’t think so.
So by forming great friendships and maintaining them, we can show others what the results of equality are. Not many people would argue that friendship doesn’t bring benefits for all involved. Friendships promote happiness and wellbeing. They put a stop to prejudice and discrimination. They create support networks and communities and form part of the fabric of an equal society.
Perhaps by realising this, we can help others to see more clearly the benefits of an equal society. A society that doesn’t say that one group of people is any better or worse than a different group of people, where nobody is alienated or discriminated against and where everyone can be supported and cared for fairly. It sounds quite similar to a great friendship to me.
The views expressed above are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Equality Trust.
'I’m 21 years old and currently in my third year at The University of Sheffield, studying Medicine. I come from a relatively deprived area (Hartlepool) and know that I am really fortunate to have got where I am today, which I suppose is why inequality matters to me. I also see the effects that inequalities can have directly on people’s health when I’m seeing patients on a daily basis.'