Philia: Mutual Love of Friends
I once had surgery because I had an extra tooth. After it, I looked absolutely horrible (trust me, horrible). Puffy cheeks, huge chunks of gauze in my mouth, tired out of my mind, and hungry beyond belief. The last thing I wanted was for someone to see me in this state, but my best friend called my parents saying she wanted to visit and give me ice cream. I would literally trade my right kidney for ice cream any day, so it was hard to say no. I did warn her how I looked, but she didn’t give it a thought and said she didn’t care. I had never felt so loved in my life.
As we are getting to know someone, we like to focus on what we love about them. Sometimes, we do this so much that we hide away things about them we might not love. Some examples: the way someone might talk with their mouth full or the way someone else always shows up late.
As Christians, we are called to love differently. We choose not to say “I love this person because…”, but instead opt for “I love this person despite…”. I love my friend despite them always talking with their mouth full. I love my friend despite them always showing up late. We shouldn’t be blinded to faults because then we would be pretending everything is perfect, and there’s never a perfect kind of friendship. Under the layer of sugar coating, there are going to be some things you may not necessarily love about each other. There may even be times when you need to have uncomfortable conversations with your friends, to call them to greater virtue or to reconcile with one another. But the mutual love of friends (philia), will overcome any minor imperfections or uncomfortable conversations.
Along with hiding what we may not love as much, there is open space to insert judgments about the relationship. If we look back to Agape (God’s love), we remember that God wants us to love unconditionally. He doesn’t care about imperfections or weird habits, he wants us to love one another despite these things. We can’t say we love like God if we pick and choose who deserves it.
An important thing to remember when talking about philia is the golden rule: “Love your neighbour as yourself”. In philautia, we see the importance of loving ourselves and we should also channel that energy into loving our friends; these are the people we are giving masks to in airplanes. There is a reason why our initial instinct is to put theirs on first before we put our own masks on. We are made for love. In faith, we recognize the importance of this love; it’s even one of the greatest commandments.
Don't get me wrong, “Loving despite…” is a difficult task to do. It is not your fault for seeing others’ faults first. It is studied that our initial reactions to meeting people do not dictate who we are, it is the second reaction that does. For example, if you see someone, you might judge them for how they look initially and then take it back right after. That first judgement is a reaction made by society through us, but our response is a much greater indicator of character. We can see that we actually want to love despite and that we don't want to rely on initial impressions.
No one is perfect and we will never meet someone we are able to love perfectly, but if we begin to love despite, we can begin to see and know our friends as they truly are. Love your friends despite their imperfections and love them as you love yourself.
Do your friends need ice cream today?