As University of Idaho undergraduates in 1974, Fred and I built youth programs together at Moscow Presbyterian Church. We became friends. Fred was a brilliant biologist. He studied cougar foraging and duck injuries in his doctoral work. Acne plagued Fred. When our friendship reached a point where I could speak frankly, we sorted out how to tame his complexion. I was gaining weight (as usual); Fred made helpful nutrition suggestions. Fred fought Oregon fires one summer. I visited and found his sleeping bag rotted. After some direct talk, we discovered a local thrift held cheap replacements. I tended to burn the candle at both ends. I would study well past midnight, then set meetings before morning classes. Fred told me “one or the other, not both.” He was right. Finally, Fred found Linda, a gem among women. Linda grew discouraged in their relationship. After candid talk, I learned Fred had not told Linda his feelings for her. Fred did so. When Fred and Linda married, the couple chose nuptials in a field in the woods. The morning of the ceremony, I learned Fred had tasked no one to police the cattle pasture. I shoveled dung in my tuxedo, then stood as best man. Imagine that chat.
A core privilege of friendship is frank conversation. Ralph Waldo Emerson (American, 19th century A.D.) saw: “Better be a nettle in the side of your friend than his echo” (Friendship). True, friends must show one another grace and forgiveness. Joseph Joubert (French, 19th century A.D.) said: “When my friends are one-eyed, I look at them in profile” (Pensees). Still, deep humans show grace even to strangers. Frankness they hoard for friends. An honest word spoken by a beloved companion is spiritual elixir. Wounds heal. Barriers fall. Fears flag. William Penn (American, 17th century A.D.) said: “They have a right to censure that have a heart to help” (Some Fruits of Solitude, §1.46). Friendship boils down to frank love. A friend’s plain-speaking stimulates reflection and mediates ill-conceived excesses. Heart-to-heart companionship warms the cold nut of existence. Sophocles (Greek, 5th century B.C.) asserted: “To throw away an honest friend is, as it were, to throw your life away” (Oedipus the King).
Where friendship sickens, the disease is dishonesty. Some believe friends do not argue; I doubt they have friends. Friendship thrives in passionate disagreement. Friendship rots where deceit is suspected. Solitude craves politeness. Strings of sincerity weave human bonds. Moliere (French, 17th century A.D.) agreed, “The greater one’s love for a person the less room for flattery. The proof of true love is to be unsparing in criticism” (The Misanthrope, 1666, §2). A friend’s core responsibility lies in compassionate candor. Djuna Barnes (American, 20th century A.D.) said, “To love without criticism is to be betrayed” (Nightwood, 1937).
Sit down with a friend. Give a hug. Be frank.