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Filipinos as paragons of friendship

As the whole nation celebrated the anniversary of the birth of the Greatest Friend, I would like to reflect on the incalculable value of true human friendship.

Because it is part of the social nature with which our Creator endowed us, friendship is a relationship that exists in every human community. It is so deeply embedded in Filipino culture that the very name of friendship (“kaibigan”), at least in Tagalog, is derived from the root word “pag-ibig” (love).

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In many parts of the world to which I have traveled, I get a universal feedback from my foreign hosts: Some of their best friends are Filipino immigrants or overseas workers. The warmth of friendship that a Filipino exudes is especially endearing to foreigners who have allowed, through negligence or excessive individualism, friendship with those close to them, including close relatives, to wane.

As a rather empty or hollow substitute, those who fail to strike deep friendships with those closest to them have the escape mechanism of accumulating hundreds, if not thousands, of Facebook friends.

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Lest we continue to cheapen or water down the concept of friendship through spending hours and hours daily with our “friends” on the internet, we should remind ourselves of the real meaning of friendship. A modern saint who wrote and spoke unceasingly about human friendship is St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. He even contributed to the vocabulary of Christianity the expression “apostolate of personal friendship and trust.” He used to say in very graphic terms that every ordinary Christian in the middle of the world should have 10 friends hanging from each of his or her 10 fingers—friends that he or she should bring to heaven together with him or her. Obviously, these are more than Facebook friends who merely “like” every post you make on the internet.

It is also obvious that we cannot have “hundreds of friends” at any given time as we pretend to have in social networking relationships such as Facebook. St. Josemaria further said: “Friendship is something that is easily noticed; it is almost a tangible reality: we can sense that we are in tune with a friend, that there is an affinity between us, that we enjoy one another’s company. For Christians, friendship is raised up to a new level by grace and becomes a way to communicate Christ’s life to others. Thus, friendship is transformed into a real gift from God, inseparable form charity.”

In fact, the very life of Jesus Christ we read in the New Testament gives us the best example of friendship: “He rejoiced in His friends’ happiness, and He suffered with their sorrow. He always made time for other people. He overcame His tiredness to speak with the Samaritan woman; He stopped on His way to Jairus’ house, to attend to a woman who was suffering from a hemorrhage; and in the midst of His own sufferings on the Cross, He spoke with the good thief and opened the gates of heaven to him. And His love got down to specifics:  we see this in His concern to find food for those who were following Him, and in the way He met their material needs; He is concerned about His disciples’ need for rest, and brings them to a secluded place to spend some time together.”

As our environment becomes more urbanized, mechanized, digitized and roboticized, there is a danger that we Filipinos may follow the way of other societies in which human friendship has become just a fond memory of past practices and human relationships. We should capitalize on the strengths of our Asian, Malay and Christian cultures, which have always assigned the highest priority to human friendship.

The greatest anchor we have in this regard is our Christian faith, which can withstand the forces of egoism, materialism and consumerism that militate against an unselfish concern for others. As we start a new year, let us make sure that we are more than just “Facebook” friends to those who are close to us. We Filipinos should continue to be paragons of friendship.

Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas ([email protected]) is a professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific.

 

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Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club.

 

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