Socratic Dialogue at Magnolia House

Halesworth, September 6, 2016. At Magnolia House, courtisy of Tamsin and Micahel. Thank you Suzie for this.

I am once agin all the more in awe of Tamzin and Michael, precious people who I do not dance with enough.

Such concentrated listening, held so carefully and compassionately, by the facilitator, by this group of 12, in a beautiful garden room, punctuated with delicious tea, coffee, cake and food.

Our theme was Friendship. We were asked to display on the table our own direct experiences of friendship. It was the test of friendships which first arose in examples. A friendship, which had been nurtured and survived over years, which was suddenly challenged: the breakdown of trust, the burden of friendship, the changing times and changing needs, the difficulty of unequal needs within friendships. I put on the table a counter experience, a transitory dance, and along came two others positives: friendship flourishing through challenge, and loyalty of friends.

It was the struggle that was selected, J’s example, and how appropriate that was, for she had that even northern temperament that when questioned was unruffled and straightforward. I warmed to her voice, recognising it as that of Pat Raine, although she was a much gentler and more loving less acerbic Pat Raine. I discovered later that her husband came from Cottingham, and she was the white rose of the Lancastrian.

J’s friend (A) was taken to hospital with a heart condition. Through another friend (B), J received instructions not to tell A’s children. Events moved swiftly, and A was admitted to a cardiac ward. Jill was torn, to tell or not to tell A’s children, in particular A’s son who was also J’s friend and godson. After careful deliberation and attempt to contact her friend A, J decided to alert A’s son, who took the news in calm and proficient form. J’s friend recovered. She wrote J a long email berating her for telling her son and drawing a line under their friendship. J feels that the friendship of 50 years has been broken and will not be mended.

We tripped up on the moral dilemma. The should and shouldn’t of this moment. How could we judge?

We listed the qualities of friendship: self respect, appropriate behaviour, boundaries, non exploitative, reciprocation. Then more embracing: affection, comfortable, fun, shared experiences, passions.

I returned to a yard stick, Chris taught me. As social animals there were three things we wanted/needed out of friendship: to be like, to be right, to feel free. (just imagine the opposite to feel these qualities: disliked, wrong and constrained) Sometimes one or other would challenge for supremacy for example to be right superseded the need to be liked. Like in J’s case, her friendship was sacrificed to the need to be right, or acknowledged as such.

Michael hit the nail on the head right at the end of the discussion. He said, which ever way you would have acted would have been right.

To listen so carefully. To feel the arrival of judgement and dead end streets, and suspend it. To find the right question.

Here’s what I wrote at the end as my definition of friendship. I’m thinking of Louise, Leslie, Bob:

Friendship:

It’s a dance, naturally. Comfortable yet challenging, mysterious yet pragmatic. Like love, it is unlimited in time and space, quantity and quality. It can be as transient as one short dance, but deep and meaningful all the same.
It can deepen with time passing, with shared experiences and passions, obstacles to over come, laughter in the gods.
There is between us a connection, an ease and place of comfort, but not an armchair to soak in, but one that will challenge with a compassionate sword. Unconditional. Greater than right or wrong, but which can get tripped up on this stick. Allows us both to be free, unconstrained, and laugh and cry and be at ease in equal measure.

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