On friendship

Jordan Brant, Senior

Writer’s note: This article was inspired by the important lessons and ideas that I gained from my former philosophy major advisor, Professor Tom Davis. He helped me grow as a person through his teaching.

Why are so many people so unhappy and lonely at Whitman? Most students you talk to are on a plethora of depression medicines or are seeing a therapist for it. While there’s nothing wrong with either, what’s worrying is realizing the cause of the depression they are being treated for: a lack of friendship. 

A lot of people at Whitman don’t seem to have friends. They have “friend-groups” but rarely friends. It wasn’t until my senior year that I witnessed a friend-group of people who were truly all friends. 

Real friendship can only take place in a setting where people are willing to abandon the pre-scriptive way of speaking and acting that they take on whilst in groups and act and be in the way that is truly from their heart, allowing them to reach the heart of another. To not be disliked, one has to act in a certain way, even if that way is insane. Repression of the self is done to an unhealthy and extreme level at Whitman. 

In a normal society, we have a few people with whom we can drop this pre-scripted way of being and genuinely be ourselves. These people are friends. A close and true friend is one that can see who you are after you’ve dropped the mask and still care for you and love you while dropping their own mask. This is a sort of tender frankness that allows truth to be found. 

Tender frankness is two-fold. A true friend is both separately tender and frank as well as tenderly frank. When a friend is suffering, then one is tender; when a friend is making a fool of themselves, then it is best to be frank. Tender frankness is frankness, not from a place of hatred or disdain for the person but out of love and care. Your honesty with this friend allows you to be your true self and to better understand yourselves. The friend that has this closeness with you can say something true about you that you either do not know or don’t wish to acknowledge. When they do this, it isn’t to hurt you but to elucidate you to this truth. 

When the friend reaches out their hand and offers their heart to you with the truth, you have two choices: receive their heart and truth, or reject it. Accepting the truth allows you to grow. When you reject the hand that bears its owner’s heart, this friend can permanently close their heart to you. 

Most Whitman students likely haven’t even made it to the step in which they are able to drop their superficial and pre-scripted masks so that genuine connection and interaction may occur, interaction that can lead to friendship. This inability to do so is caused by the toxic culture of enforced pre-scriptive behavior that is commonplace at Whitman. 

If you step even remotely out of line at Whitman, you are ridiculed, hated, and ostracized by the majority of people. Rather than just talking to the person who has “done wrong” and getting to know them to see if their intent truly was to hurt others, they’re ostracized, demonized and outcasted. 

How can true friendship even exist in a place where being oneself is so radically discouraged by Whitman’s culture of conformity? Whitman students find themselves without true friendship. They cannot truly offer their hearts to one another since they fear the rejection of the other and the group.

At Whitman, the very act of offering one’s heart to another has become threatening and dangerous to many people. To be genuine with others allows one to bear the pains and hurt that are forced unto those who choose not to conform. To keep one’s heart open despite this and be oneself can free one from loneliness, allowing one to make true friends; friends that value that genuineness and sincere connection. 

If Whitman students learned to be truly fearless and stop caring about having to put up a mask all the time, they may actually be happy. They may learn to connect with others by opening their hearts up to them. They may even accept the hearts of others without worry. No more guilt by association. No more anxiety about whether or not you’ve said the right thing. Just acceptance of the belief that what you’ve said isn’t for the sake of hurting others but helping them grow as people. Belief in friendship; the one thing that can truly make life worthwhile.