Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - A True Virtual Friendship?
A Simple Jew asks:
One of the sessions at my recent job-related training course dealt with the topic of communication. The instructor spoke about the ways we received information from another person whether it was by viewing their body language, or listening to their words and the tone in which they spoke. The instructor suggested that studies revealed that overwhelmingly we are most receptive to information we take in through our eyes. First we process body language and visual clues and only afterwards do we actually concentrate on the content of the actual message.
This seems to be consistent to what you once commented on the topic of friendship:
But, I have wondered: Can friendship without ever having personal contact really be complete? I, too, have a very good friend - one of (if not my) closest friends, who I have never met personally in the flesh. And while I really connect with him, perhaps better than anyone else I know, I wonder if the friendship is somewhat relegated to remain only on a specific level. I wonder if a relationship that never had proximity can ever be complete – because isn't so much of an interpersonal relationship is too subtle for the written word? Indeed, the Rambam discusses this problem with writing down Torah Sheba'al Peh, because so much gets lost, and cannot be properly communicated, on paper.
We have sent pictures of ourselves, but still have never spoken on the phone. Since e-mail is the lowest form of communication, we often have to write more to fully explain a statement or sentence that might be easily understood if we could see the visual clues that accompany it if it were communicated face to face. While there is a negative aspect to this, perhaps the positive side is that it allows us to more fully understand each other.
Yet, I have also heard that you can never truly understand a person until you have been in their home. The Gemara (Taanis 11a) states, "The walls of a person's house testify regarding his character." A person can hide who he is when he is in the office, on the street, or even on the Internet, however we are given visual clues to the true essence of who he is once we walk in his front door of his home. This is another area of knowledge we lack about each other.
Both you and I have extremely busy lives and are struggling to meet all our obligations while having little time to ourselves. Recently, my five year-old daughter and I were talking about her friends. I asked her who my friends were. She responded, "You don't have any friends, Daddy." From her perspective this was the truth. She knows that I do not take time away from our family for solely my own interests and this is what led her to conclude that I do not have friends. But her truth is also not too far from my truth. I have very few true friends.
Even if we lived closer to each other I would imagine we would rarely see one another so perhaps our e-mail correspondence is the next best thing to a true friendship. Perhaps we could call it 75% of a true friendship. What do you think? Mind you, I failed statistics in college so please don't ask me how I quantify that number.
Chabakuk Elisha responds:
Well, I never even took statistics (or went to college) in the first place, so I don't know how I would quantify it statistically with any specificity either. But I guess the questions are, "What is a friendship," "What is an incomplete friendship," and "What is an absolute friendship"?
There are friends and there are friends. An acquaintance once told me: "My friends are my wife's friend's husbands." Using that definition, friends are the people that you speak with and come in contact with regularly. Of course, it's possible to build true and close relationships that way, but I think that the usage of the word "friendship" there is most likely a borrowed term – and really is being used to mean "the people I am most friendly with." Real friendship, though, is certainly much deeper thing than a schmoozing-partner at the Shul Kiddush, or the folks you invite for a Shabbos meal. A true friendship is a deep relationship, as in the famous Chassidic anecdote:
R' Moshe Leib of Sassov once came upon two peasants, quite intoxicated, drinking together at an Inn. Suddenly, one of the men asked the other, "Tell me, do you love me?" The other peasant replied, "Yes, of course - I love you very much!" But the first peasant replied, "You say that you love me, yet, you don't know what I need. If you really loved me, you would know on your own." When R' Moshe Leib saw this he said, "From those two peasants I leaned an important lesson: To know the needs of men and to bear the burden of their sorrow--that is the true love of men."
Friendship is a bond, and the stronger the bond the stronger the friendship. It's a relationship where two people are tuned in to each other's frequency; the closer the relationship, the more 'tuned-in' each is. Surely there is something missing if the two people never met in real life, and I would think that it leaves a gap and perhaps (to continue with the analogy) adds some static to the clarity of the signal – but if it's felt by the individuals, it's real. Because, truth be told, there's probably something to the idea that it either is, or it isn't. If you need to describe it or figure it out, it probably isn't really there (or it's lacking) – to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, "You know it when you see it" – and, likewise, if you think it's there… it is.