If you find the title disturbing then perhaps we are already friends. Friendship is after all a relationship made to disturb.
If the title excites, we are perhaps friends who are yet to meet. And if it puts you off, we may have once been friends, but are unlikely to be so again.
If the title troubles you, it may be the apparent lopsidedness and power dynamics of such a relationship. However a therapist can also become a best friend. If the balance of requited friendship does not reassure you, then it probably makes matters worse.
If you are unsure whether I am writing this for you, then in all likelihood it is written for you.
This is a love letter to friendship, and to my friends; past and present, and those not yet realised, and like all love letters it can also be read as an invitation.
Shared joy, not compassion, makes friends.Friedrich Nietzsche
Shared joy not only makes friends, it makes therapy.
Nietzsche uses (creates) a German word Mitfreude meaning ‘shared joy’ or ‘joying with’ for friendship. It has a connotation of ‘desire’ or ‘lust’ (lust for life) that gets lost in translation to English.
Mitfreude – the serpent that stings us means to hurt us and rejoices as it does so; the lowest animal can imagine the pain of others. But to imagine the joy of others and to rejoice at it is the highest privilege of the highest animals and among them it is accessible only to the choicest exemplars – thus a rare humanum: so that there have been philosophers who have denied the existence of joying with.Friedrich Nietzsche
Shared joy is a manifestation of the self overcoming and affirmation at the heart of Nietzschean psychotherapy. Though Nietzsche is clearly saying something about the limitations of compassion, the reach of joy and the nature of friendship, I think he is also pointing toward a bigger and sadly incomplete project. Nietzsche wanted to overthrow traditional ethics based on the curtailment of suffering and clear the way for an ethics of joy.
Compassion and Joy
For joy, though woe be deep: joy is deeper than heart’s agony.Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche understood how joy runs deeper in the human psyche than suffering. He also saw how compassion does not reach deep enough; it does not achieve the relational depth necessary for personal transformation.
Those who show pity and are always ready to help during times of trouble are seldom the same ones who rejoice in our joy: when others are happy they have nothing to do, they become superfluous and lose their feeling of superiority, and so they easily show their displeasure…Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche thought compassion comes from a place of superiority. This is in part a circumstance of geography: one person from an elevated position looks down upon another who is below them, they then try to step down to meet them. Even if this is achieved, compassion does nothing to alter the implicit power imbalance between them; it actually reasserts it.
Sharing joy has no such power imbalance; it does however require overcoming any resentment, insecure competitiveness, jealousy or envy that can, and often do accompany conventional friendship. Shared joy is always a power share.
The capacity to give back produces in us great joy and exultation. We try to divine what it is will ease his pain, and we give it to him: if he wants words of consolation, comforting looks, attentions, acts of service, presents – we give them; but above all if he wants us to suffer at his suffering we give ourselves out to be suffering; in all this, however, we have the enjoyment of active gratitude – which, in short, is benevolent revenge. If he wants and takes nothing whatever from us, we go away chilled and saddened, almost offended: it is as though our gratitude has been repulsed – and on this point of honour even the most benevolent man is ticklish…Friedrich Nietzsche
Benevolent revenge is born of an unwillingness to affirm life, including your own life just as it is. It is a resentment, or ressentiment toward the pain and disappointment of life. Unlike malicious revenge, benevolent revenge wears the respectable mask of compassion. That said, compassion may be the kindest response to someone unable to share joy.
In the conventional notion of joy, joy occurs when we come into our element, feel fully appreciated or when something wonderful happens. It is an exultant or heightened feeling that wells up from within.
The shared joy described by Nietzsche is something else entirely; it is not dependent on something wonderful happening, it comes from affirming life as it is; and you and I as we are.
So if I affirm my clients as they are, why might I consider some of them best friends?
Here and there on earth there is probably a continuation of love in which this greedy desire of two people for each other gives way to a new desire and greed, a shared higher thirst for an ideal above them. But who knows such love? Who has experienced it? Its true name is friendship.Friedrich Nietzsche
Unsurprisingly Nietzsche’s version of friendship is different from conventional friendship. You the reader might have already assumed I see the psychotherapist’s challenge as becoming a friend to their clients, this is so, although I think friendship is a step toward something greater.
We can decide who we want to be friends with, and yet we cannot choose our friends. Similarly, we might know who we want to fall in love with and yet we do not chose who we fall in love with. In our most intimate relationships (family and clients/patients included) there is something greater than choice at play.
When we think of friends, our friends, or ourselves as friends, we are likely put in mind of our earliest experiences of friendship. We are likely first exposed to the art of friendship as children. Childhood friendships generally centre around play. Though the values of friendship will likely undergo many changes over a lifetime, it is to play, for Nietzsche at least, where friendship will eternally return. To make that return we must first become a child. Nietzsche’s child is the end stage of an adult metamorphoses that goes from camel to lion to child.
The camel is a beast of burden and duty – happily and unhappily obedient – life is about carrying a heavy load. Though the camel may be around many people, it lives in the loneliest desert.
The spirit of the Lion says, “I will!” The lion is characterised by doing battle with received values, it is not enough to shed the load of its previous dromedary existence, it must slay the great dragon called “Thou shalt”. It fights to destroy all values, and yet even in victory it is incapable of creating its own.
Next is the child, only the child can create values:
The child is innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a sport, a self-propelling wheel, a first motion, a sacred Yes. Yes, a sacred Yes is needed, my brothers, for the sport of creation: the spirit now wills its own will, the spirit sundered from the world now wins its own world.Friedrich Nietzsche
Creation and creativity are the link between Nietzsche’s friend and child:
I teach you the friend and his overflowing heart. But you must understand how to be a sponge if you want to be loved by overflowing hearts. I teach you the friend in whom the world stands complete, a vessel of the good – the creative friend, who always has a complete world to bestow.Friedrich Nietzsche
The friend Nietzsche teaches – the ‘creative friend’ – is the child as friend.
Even a conversation with a friend will produce great fruits of knowledge only when both people finally think solely of the matter at hand and forget that they are friends.Friedrich Nietzsche
To forget you are a friend, or be forgotten as a friend, is the greatest gift of friendship; it is love, a love that pursues a ‘shared higher thirst’.
Nietzsche’s child is ‘innocence and forgetfulness,’ the child forgets so as not to lose sight of the matter at hand. For Nietzsche’s child the matter at hand is always play. Forgetting is integral to play, creating and happiness can not happen without it; it is an ‘upholder of psychic order,’ and without it there is ‘no real present’ (Nietzsche)
Forgetting friends is a delicate and fragile practice, and yet it is incumbent on us as friends, lovers and therapists that we do.
What then is the value of forgetting a friendship?
Love your enemies because they bring out the best in you.Friedrich Nietzsche
Be careful who you chose as your enemy because that’s who you become most like.Friedrich Nietzsche
To learn from our enemies is the best pathway to loving them: for it makes us grateful to them.Friedrich Nietzsche
Go up close to your friend, but do not go over to him! We should also respect the enemy in our friend.Friedrich Nietzsche
When we can locate and value the enemy in our friend, our friendships are then able to grow to a whole other level. Those who have not yet learned to love their friend-as-enemy are quick to take offence, this prevents them deepening their friendships. Many promising friendships drown in the shallows through failure to fathom or navigate the challenges of philia love.
To become an enemy to your friend – to become the “frenemy” – is one of the greatest gifts of friendship.
Psychotherapists are always double-agents working for both sides. To do so is honourable not because it demonstrates high esteem, though it does, it is because of a willingness to do battle with your friend, risking their friendship in taking sides against them in favour of who they are becoming. In the shifting allegiances of therapy, the focus shifts, as though looking over their shoulder to see who they are that stands just behind them.
Betrayal in friendship is always self betrayal. To betray a ‘shared higher thirst’ is foremost, and in the final analysis, only ever self betrayal. By this account friends are never concerned for themselves, their only concern is for their friend. In this sense there is little scope for drama in Nietzschean friendship.
A friend that gives and keeps a tally in their friendships is asking too little; they ask too little of themselves. Resentment and anger toward a friend is at root a disappointment in oneself. If you are at the end of your rope with a friend, lengthen it. A long rope is needed to draw deep from the well of friendship. What value are you as friend, with a short rope tied to your bucket?
The friend you seek does not exist, give up looking: you have to create the friend. Like Robinson Crusoe we wait for a friend to appear, we must give up and create of ourselves the friend; it is only then that we are able to see footsteps in the sand.
Dead people can make great friends.
They are unforgiving, not due to a lack of generosity, indeed the dead are the most generous of friends precisely because they are so unforgiving. Their generosity comes from not taking things personally. Since the dead have paid the price for the life they led, they do not seek compensation amongst the living.
A dead friend is entirely indiscriminate with their love. They never favour one friend over another and they will never tell you they have enough friends already.
A dead friend exists without time, and so they are patient to a fault.
Friendship with a dead person is good preparation for becoming a dead friend. If you value being a friend, this might be the best reason for carefully considering your legacy.
‘One is always one too many around me’ – thus speaks the hermit. ‘Always once one – in the long run that makes two!’ I and Me are always too earnestly in conversation with one another: how could it be endured, if there were not a friend? For the hermit the friend is always the third person: the third person is always the cork that prevents the conversation of the other two from sinking into the depths.Friedrich Nietzsche
The hermit’s attempted withdrawal from the world is a failure to affirm it, and so they lack joy and friends; this becomes the hermit’s vicious circle.
Being in his own company forces him to confront his relationship with himself, only to discover he lives in an arranged marriage. Perhaps he has at least learnt that solitude is not about being alone.
In trying to get away from people, himself included, he now finds himself wanting a friend. Is not learning the solitary life at core the same as learning to become a sponge? What value is a friend that cannot share joy? Or one that cannot soak it up?
If you cannot drink the ocean dry, it may be better to stay on land.
The best friend disappears before the ‘shared higher thirst’. In this friendship nothing is personal, and so it becomes eternal friendship.
The best friend joyfully bestows the world through their affirmation of it, with an ethics of joy they become ever more present as they disappear.
The greatest friend is the living one that has developed the best qualities of a dead one.
Such friends, even a hermit can live with.
I now count Fritz and I as friends, this is something I have only recently come to appreciate.
I had always thought he would not like me; that I could never live up to his standards: I am as much last man as overman, and am likely to always find more truth than I am able to live with.
Having put much work into our relationship over many years, I did not once imagine we could become friends. I had come to accept this, and yet I now see how this has nothing to do with friendship.
All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.