My oldest son believes that I need more friends. Part of his concern is that he came across an article suggesting that people who have close friendships live longer. The article references some studies that produced statistics for the average number of friends and acquaintances a person has. I am well below average. This informs my son’s concern. It is sweet to me that he is concerned and that he wants me to live as long as possible. He certainly means well.
However it is common to mistake correlation for causality. It is equally incorrect to mistake quantity for quality. The studies on friendship that suggest the average person has 12 friends and 50-75 others at the acquaintance level may in fact be statistically true. But there is no qualitative analysis provided for what are called ”friendships”. And therein lies the rub, as they say.
We must first define friend. And in the defining we have to think about the threshold for friendship. There has to be some base level of interaction that distinguishes friends from acquaintances, business partners, store clerks, waitresses, and lovers. Right?
And the hundreds of people that are my friends on say, Facebook, aren’t. I clicked a blue button. Their profile ended up in a list associated with my facebook account. That’s it. Really. That’s it. That doesn’t establish a friend or friendship.
I heard someone a long time ago talk about the word friendship with an emphasis on the ship part. He drew out the comparison of an aircraft carrier to a canoe. The aircraft carrier he said, is more like a floating city. There may be hundreds of personnel on board, maybe more. I didn’t feel it important to look up a precise count. I trust you to trust me that an aircraft carrier, while definitely a ship, is too big to call everyone aboard it, your friend.
Or take a cruise ship; you’ll climb on one of those without knowing hardly anyone. You don’t need to know them. You’re just using it as a means of entertainment and transportation. It’s a mini-Las Vegas experience. The people are scenery, or servants. Cruise ships are the Facebook of sea-going vessels.
A canoe, on the other hand is a very intimate thing indeed. It is highly responsive, for better or worse to the slightest movement or shift in balance of anyone aboard. Ideally, two people in a canoe will work together. They will coordinate action. If the bow paddler is pulling on the right, starboard side of the craft, the stern paddler will ordinarily paddle on the left, or port side. This is unless they want to go in a circle. Paddling on the same side is the surest way to accomplish that.
Likewise, there is a technique for quickly turning a canoe in which the bow paddler may back-paddle (paddle in reverse) on one side of the boat, while the stern paddler paddles in a normal forward direction on the other side. This will spin a canoe if coordinated properly. And in some circumstances this can be useful.
Also, in a canoe, the weaker partner sets the pace. There is little benefit for one paddler to be pulling at 10 strokes a minute ( a leisurely pace), while the other is pulling at 20. The boat moves best if both people act as one.
This same rule applies to skulling teams. The coxswain calls the beat and the rowers all synchronize their movements.
You wouldn’t climb into a canoe with just anyone. And if you did, it likely wouldn’t be a pleasant experience, or the kind you’d ever want to repeat. You get in a canoe with someone you know, someone you trust. A friend, in other words.
To me, these are delightful metaphors of genuine, qualitative friend”ship”. Yeah, it’s a hella small ship, but the level of interaction is uniquely, satisfyingly meaningful. That kind of friendship is rare, but worth it. It is quality over quantity. On the battleship, or aircraft carrier of normal life, we are more like ”ships in the night” than canoe-mates. I prefer a canoe, friend.