All Real Living is a Meeting

Check out the rest of Logan's series on friendship.

Through conversation over the past week, I've been led to continue reflecting on the concept of encounter that I touched on in my previous post, Encountering Poverty. Specifically, I will look into the concept of friendship and how it functions practically, philosophically, and theologically as a relationship. This will be a multi-post exploration, and I thank you for humoring me.


The word friendship shares etymologies with the word "freedom" in English, "freude" (joy) in German, and "philia" (affectionate love) in Romance languages and Greek.

For the sake of illumination, let's take a longer look at "philia." Philia is defined by Aristotle as, "wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one's own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him."[^1] Discussing the same, John M. Cooper writes, “the central idea of philia is that of doing well by someone for his own sake, out of concern for him (and not, or not merely, out of concern for oneself).”[^2] It is important to note, in both of these examples philia is directed toward and concerned with the other over the self.

With this etymological understanding in mind, friendship is not merely affection, but a relationship which contains freedom, joy, and affection within mutual responsibility and solidarity.

Becoming

The edges of friendship are fuzzy and imprecise. Friendship is fundamentally a relationship of becoming. Svetlana Boym writes that friendship is not an object of analysis but a process. It is a process of coming to know the self, another person, and the boundaries of a relationship. Roland Barthes calls it a “miraculous crystallization of presence." Friendship is a site of action where need an desire are joined.

The process of friendship is always imprecise and non-prescriptive. It opens into the universal and cannot be wedged into preconceived models or easily understood tactics of marketing, mission, or outreach. Rather than a relationship of increasing closeness and a fusion of individuals, friendship defies symbols of fulfillment. Instead, friendship has no measureable object but friendship itself—the continuous development of two people into a life where friendship is more and more possible. The only goal of friendship is its own continuous becoming and the becoming of its constituents as selves.

When this process ends, we say people have "fallen out" of friendship.[^3]

Thou

Martin Buber traced the full weight of friendship in his formation of the relationship between I (one, as an individual person) and Thou (another person). For Buber, to relate to another person is to become a person, a self, an "I." And as a person becomes more and more a self, she likewise increasingly understands that another person is himself an "I." But Buber goes beyond the impoverished, individualistic understanding of "I" we commonly hold.

Buber reveals that to relate to another person is to relate to the divinity of that person—her total otherness and transcendent quality as a human being. Another person is not "you," or "they." She is "Thou."[^4] Only this formulation of friendship can contain the fullness of freedom, joy, and affection within the bounds of mutuality, responsibility, and solidarity.

Truly and freely encountering another as a friend rules out coercion, violence, utility, and possession.

It is with this understanding that we will continue our investigation of friendship. And throughout the series, we shall keep in mind Buber's poetic wisdom: "All real living is a meeting."[^5]

  • [^1]: Nicomachean Ethics, 1380b36–1381a2
  • [^2]: "Friendship and the Good." The Philosophical Review
  • [^3]: Svetlana Boym's reflections on friendship play heavily into the previous two paragraphs. I found out today that she died on the 5th of this month after a year of living with cancer. I am thankful for her and her work: “Scenography of Friendship,” Cabinet Magazine
  • [^4]: The Christian theological tradition formulates this as the Image of God (or Imago Dei) in every person.
  • [^5]: I and Thou

Garbage Homes for Garbage People

How America Could End Homelessness in One Year With Something We All Throw Away Every Day

Yes. The solution to ending homelessness in the United States is taking people who live without housing and asking them to live in garbage. Homelessness is so bad and homeless people are so desperate that they would live anywhere, even in a house made of garbage.

Look, I get that this is a creative solution that has the nice benefit of crossing over into eco/green/recycling/earth-friendly territory. Some people might like to live in, like, a regular house made out of wood or whatever, but I’ve concluded that the people who think this is a great idea must assume that homeless people live garbage lives already so they would probably be pretty comfortable living in garbage, too. Right? After all, if wishes were houses beggars wouldn’t have problems attaching to other people and end up on the street addicted and vulnerable to the capricious whims of the homed and their police force. Also, if wishes were houses people might have a house. But why would they want one when we built them this nice one made out of trash?

I guess it’s not such a surprise that this seems like a viable solution to enough people that I see it in my social media feeds twice a week. We already pawn off the excess of our consumerism on the poor as it is. Why not build it into shelter for them while we’re at it? A garbage house is better than no house, after all.

Except that it’s a bandaid applied and applauded with such breathless enthusiasm that there’s surely little thought being put into its implementation. We can be sure the thoughts and feelings of those who we expect to joyfully accept their new pile of refuse have not been considered. And the root causes of homelessness either go unnoticed or are actively ignored. Homelessness is a problem not only of economy but also of power, privilege, culture, society, psychology, and family history. It differs from person to person, life to life, individual to individual.

The garbage homes “solution” to homelessness arises from a mindset that sees homelessness as a inexplicable phenomenon and people experiencing homelessness solely as a problem. This disregards the humanity and individual identity of folks living lives which do not conform to the majority of the population of a given society. To offer simple solutions to homelessness, even with the best of intentions, not only further marginalizes and dehumanizes the people experiencing it, doing so reifies the matrix of causes that lead to homelessness in the first place.

A person is not a problem to be solved. The task, then, is to treat people not as objects, but as the subjects they are. In other words, don’t treat people like garbage.