Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Celebrities may not be your friends!

I had an odd experience the other day. I read my previous blog entry and became irate at the irascible line of reasoning put forth. Basically, I had argued that I would rather grab a cup of coffee with Bill Clinton then with Larry King. I argued that if one could theoretically hang out with a celebrity without that particular celebrity having celebrity status, then one was not starstruck but genuinely attracted to that person. My implicit conclusion was that I could envision hanging out with Bill Clinton.

I can't agree to that line of reasoning. I would love to talk to Bill Clinton precisely because of his fame (or infamy depending on how you interpret the facts). I am fascinated by the fact that he managed to become so politically successful at such a young age. I am enamored by his political skill, which is capable of not only dissembling but magnifying the humanity of his person. I am stupefied by his ability to overcome deep moral intemperance and remain faithful to his wife. In addition, I must say, his life story (as it is told in his autobiography) is rather interesting to listen to. All this to say, I am a little starstruck by his prestidigitation and lack of comportment.

And if that is the case, I probably am not a good person for him to talk to. I would not be addressing his person, but I would be attempting to understand American history or trying to set myself up as someone who is morally superior. So, now, I am stuck. If I can't talk to him merely on the basis of being a political celebrity, then what should I do, if I were given an un-excusable opportunity to grab a cup of coffee?
If I had been on excusable opportunity to talk with Bill Clinton this is what I would do:

1. I would seek to know

a. if he is a good listener – meaning does he said his mind to the task of listening to an individual person who might not otherwise be of any immediate benefit to him?

b. Does he communicate a sense of honor and respect for other people?

c. Does he project a sense of trustworthiness and confidence?

d. Is he witty – that is, does he say appropriate things in ways that are not hackneyed or ambiguous or immoral or with a view towards the truth?

e. Has he ever read the Bible?

f. If so, what does he think that it is about?

2. I would attempt to establish some type of mutually recognized agreement – meaning, I would ultimately seek to try to understand what he had to say, while evaluating the truth of what he had to say in a way that was open and honest – I would make it my aim to try to find a mutual recognition of agreement because truth is the bond of all friendship

So, why this careful delineation? Why have I wanted out so carefully a conversation that will probably never take place? Well, this example of how I would talk to Bill Clinton is really just my blueprint for how I would talk to anyone. I think the goal of any conversation should be one that seeks to establish friendship – the basis and bond of friendship is truth. This means that conversations should be aimed at establishing a mutual recognition of the truth and what is true.

To deny that truth is the basis of friendship, is to make friendship completely arbitrary and one based on mere whim and fancy. This would create a community of mistrust. It would be an obdurate community fueled by everyone's individual passions. What is necessary for every individual to begin to establish a trustworthy community is to begin to think about one's objects of admiration and fascination; to think about celebrities and famous people in terms of love and trustworthiness. This means that one must not indulge oneself into thinking merely about what is fascinating about Clinton, Larry King, Oprah, Tom Cruise, and the like. To think too much in this direction will govern your thinking, affections, and actions in a way that is not trustworthy or friendly. The bottom line, be careful how you think about celebrities because they may not be your friends!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why I would hang out with Bill Clinton but not Larry King

The art of friendship is rarely thought of as an art. In fact, when you read that phrase "the art of friendship" you may have suspected me of dishonesty, manipulation, or perhaps even outright perfidy. However, I still maintain there is a proper way to obtain and maintain friendships – the pith of any art or science includes principles and rules of conduct!

However, even if you disagree with me, follow my thinking for just a moment. Contemporary American culture upholds an ideal image of friendship – that is, people with which one can and should be associated. So what is that ideal? In order to get the cultural ideal of friendship, let us first try to think about a public person that embodies friendship. It may be a celebrity, a political figure, a powerful figure. Certainly there are many people that could come to mind. I think that people like Mr. Rogers, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Larry King, etc. (just check out who is being trended on Yahoo to get a good idea of friends, I did!). As you read through this list, you probably had strong conflicting emotions pulse through you because some of those people are universally loved (I dare you to hate Mr. Rogers!), While others are certainly hated by some but adored by others (i.e. Bill Clinton – I have to admit, despite my political and theological disagreements with the man, I still think he would be pretty fun to talk to – he seems really nice and approachable).

It is certainly true that, although there is hardly a person that is universally loved and adored, there can be discerned in patterns of American friendship a set of identifiable characteristics that can be amalgamated into a single ideal of friendship. Let's go with Larry King for the time being. Aside from the fact that Larry King so old that true age could only be verified by method of radiocarbon dating, he is a well-respected figure who has interviewed just about everyone you could imagine from Billy Graham to Paris Hilton.

Now let's think winning characteristics – he has long-standing trust with the American people because of his continued and dependable journalistic skill – he knows how to ask honest inquiring questions, which provide the right information for people to understand various public figures. He is not afraid of interviewing anybody despite their social connotations – the only criteria necessary for Larry King is that there is a public figure/issue worthy of the peoples’ attention.

In my assessment, Larry King earned the title of ideal friend with all honesty, integrity, and praise. But let's face it, unless you were either going to be on the show or you really cared to brag about it to your friends, is not somebody exactly what I hang out with. He would be more like an overly inquisitive uncle. I think the true test of an honest public celebrity is this: if you can answer yes to the following question, that I think the celebrity could be a good friend: if this person were not famous, would not make me famous by meeting them, or would not become famous shortly after the meeting them, would I want to hang out with them? In other words, do you think they would be enjoyable, helpful, or possibly one who could agree with you?

If you cannot answer one of these questions, you may just be starstruck! So, go on, give it a try. Think about your favorite distant friend (i.e. favorite celebrity, politician, or wealthy person), and try to see if be friends with them. In addition, give a little bit more thought to what a friend is. If you can define a friend as an ideal, you can learn how to obtain friends and maintain friendships because friendship begins with a bond of affection – and affections are expressions of what we believe to be true – how we perceive what is true and false about persons, circumstances, and ideas. In other words, when you like a person, you are affirming a belief about that person – you may simply affirm their beauty, their charm, but you may also affirm their character or behavior. As you begin to learn and think about what you like and don't like, you will begin to learn about patterns of behavior and principles, which govern your life and that you find desirable in other people. This will enable you to discover the rules and principles that you use to connect with other people – the essence and pith of the matter is that you will discover how to improve in the art of friendship.