Have you ever felt that you have been given the Judas kiss? Well I have! Again and again and again. I have permitted this because as a general rule, I see good in people. And I am constantly disappointed, yet I persist. It is indeed a fatal flaw of mine. And even when there is premonition and unease, it is still shocking when you are given that Judas kiss. Treachery always is. But unfortunately, one does not expect treachery from so called friends, no matter what the circumstance.
It was Aristotle who wrote, “Those who are friends on the basis of virtue are eager to do good to one another, for this belongs to virtue as well as to friendship, and for those who vie with one another in this way, there are no complaints or quarrels. No one is annoyed with one who loves and benefits him, but if he is cultivated, he retaliates by doing good in return.”
Obviously, the opposite is equally true.
And in that respect we can speak to friendships of utility. While it is true that there is a measure of utilitarianism in every relationship, it is at its zenith, in friendships of utility. So in contradistinction to the virtuous friendship, friendships of utility are defined by individuals who are hell bent on securing benefits for their own good, whereas in virtuous friendships we seek one another’s good.
The narrowness of the focus of utilitarian friends, the sometimes all-consuming ambition for office, status and attention, the belief that they are somewhat superior to others, the belief that they are entitled to something, the scarcity of the goods that they seek, whether political office, top administrative posts, a posting overseas, membership on a board, five minutes on television, a man or a woman, and the tendency of people’s judgements to be biased in their own favour are all factors that contribute to disintegration, confusion and unnecessary consternation in this short life that is ours. And this type of friendship is the lowest form of friendship. It is far worse among persons who claim to be transformational in orientation. I understand why Errol Barrow said, keep your enemy close. At least you know they are coming for you. They lack hypocrisy. They are transparent, unlike utility friends.
And to be clear I do not refer to legal utilitarian friendships or friendships of trust, instead I refer to ethical utilitarian friendships if that oxymoron is permitted. But is utilitarian friendship, friendship at all? Or is it instead pretend friendship?
Again, quoting Aristotle, “all or most men wish for what is noble, but choose what is beneficial”. So when individuals claim that their sacrifice of a friendship is for a noble end, which can be a positive thing, a weak and self-serving attempt to appear to be in pursuit of a noble cause quickly becomes porous, fake, empty, trite and the soft underbelly of the friendship is exposed, because one or both of the friends lack self-knowledge, straight-forwardness and clear-sightedness.
Indeed, it becomes crystal clear, that while professing to aim for one thing, utilitarian friends choose another objective or end because, in reality, their desire for the second objective or goal is more intense, even while publicly and privately failing to acknowledge it to themselves. But that failure to acknowledge, because it will expose the ugly true nature of the character, does not in fact mitigate the basic hypocrisy of the position.
While friendship can be viewed as the pursuit of the good, enmity or malevolence, the opposite of friendship, is at the core of all bad moral behaviour which is often associated with utility friendship. So as Robert Sokolowski in The Phenomenology of Friendship states, “The purest form of malevolence is the case in which we directly will and do something that is bad for another, and we will and do it precisely as our good.”
Sokolowski further argues that the justification of the malevolence is merely a rational way of inflicting damage. But for those who have received the Judas kiss, know that for the malevolent such action ultimately corrupts far more than it injures the one who suffers the harm. Such action is not only born of self-interest and weakness, but, importantly in his view, it is done purely and simply to injure another.
However, Sokolowski does conclude that many of our wicked actions are not done out of such pure malevolence; most are done out of weakness or because we are seeking some interest of our own, whether that interest is power, a job, money, status, admiration, a man we desire, a woman we desire, a job promotion, an appointment, an overseas trip, organizing a conference, a social activity and so on. So, I want your job, I want your life, so I slander you in order to get your job, to get your life.
George Belle once told me that friends would go out of their way to undermine you just because someone admires you for your moustache, for the success of your children, for the way you conduct yourself, for your beauty, for your intellect, for your popularity. Sad! I do not slander you simply out of malice, but only because I want the position you have; there is “nothing personal” in what I do. Hmmm!
And the worst justification and rationalization of this form of malice, with the calculated, anticipated, unnecessary personal injury caused, is the usual pious approach and the retreat to other people as a defence and quite naturally to God and religion. The “it is not me you know, people are telling me so many things about you and I have the blessing of God”.
Sokolowski thus contends that whatever the rationalization, it remains true that the malevolent have willingly embraced and pursued what is bad for another as their good. A vicious, malicious person of this type can never achieve perfect friendship.
A morally weak but not vicious individual person suffers from what Aristotle calls akrasia and can show elements of friendship. Though that person may lack the necessary prerequisites to be a virtuous friend, he/she may experience genuine regret at the behaviour and the hurt caused to his/her “friend” so it makes sense that he/she maintains some friendships. The truly malevolent, however, feel no regret; instead they proceed uninterrupted with their treachery, only briefly pausing because if there is one regret that they experience, it is that they have now been exposed, become unmasked, like the Emperor without clothes.
How does a utility friend ever get clothed after exposure? They cannot. But I will also concede that quite frequently the breakdown of friendships has less to do with the type of good being pursued than with confusions and deceptions surrounding that pursuit.
Hear me now. It is not the pursuit of an end, but the means by which the end is pursued. Important too is the fact that these confusions and deceptions can arise in all sorts of friendships. And deception and confusion in friendships are to be avoided. Good breeding is also critical.
How do you prepare for the ultimate betrayal and the inevitable Judas kiss that most of us will experience at some time in our lives? First of all, guard your headspace, for this is your last line of defence against the cruel evils in this world.
As someone I respect and in many respects admire for their strength and achievements as a woman, once said to me, “Cynthia guard your head space, for head hunters are coming your way. . . . [to put] a chink in your amour. Recognize it! Then say, they are not coming back in. Why facilitate them if they do not mean you well . . . . Do not allow others to manipulate your feelings or agenda. Take it in bite size doses. Eventually you will walk into the lion’s den, like Daniel, smiling . . . . Accept that people will lie on you, seek to pull you down, and why not? You are a beautiful, intelligent woman . . . . Live the narrative they are trying to destroy . . . . Do not surrender your headspace to stupid people with petty lives.”
Secondly, watch out for their credibility and their crisis of credibility. Past similar behaviour meted out to other “friends” is a good indicator that a Judas kiss awaits you. Many of your utility friends indeed are defined by zero credibility in that department. In undertaking these two steps, you will ensure as much as possible that the wounds inflicted upon you are not so great and that there is sufficient material left to heal the wound.
Make sure that you have at least one virtuous friend, for they will be your rock. And you instinctively know who that person is. It is the person who, even when you falter through your own fault, is there for you; it is that person who when you are being privately and publicly castigated does not run for cover more concerned about their standing than your welfare. It is certainly not the person who sees you standing at the edge of a cliff and runs for cover. It is not the person who remains silent when you are being castigated.
Watching out for the credibility factor in the persons you regularly come into contact with, will inculcate in you a habit of engaging in discernment. Watch out for that flip flopping, what some say is merely making up their mind and in the process chopping and twisting their mouths as they play mind games with you whilst working assiduously to get you to take down your defences and your guard. Then you become vulnerable and they can pounce for their own good. There are such devious and callous individuals, and unfortunately I have met a few. Such discernment will lend itself to you approaching friendships with the equal caution and fervour that most of us display when we pick up a basket in a supermarket or a department store to buy essentials. Remember not because you work with someone, attend classes with that person, attend religious service with them, participate in an organization with them, have the occasional lunch with them and so on, that they are your friend.
Ensure that you adopt a bounce back personality/mentality. That means when you get knocked down whether you anticipated a blow or not, that you get back up again, shake off your disappointment in your utility friend and use the wound for good and laugh, always laugh. My virtuous friend of over three decades Joan Cuffie and I live by that creed, laugh!
Remember too that it is impossible to be friends with too many people, for friendship requires complete understanding of another and demands that we do good for another and not with the expectation of reward. We therefore simply cannot understand many people with the detailed and personalized knowledge that friendship demands. And that is what makes us view acquaintances, travellers on the same road we traverse, as our true friends. No, they are not! Rather they are merely fellow travellers at best and at worse utility friends. The former to be welcomed as travellers the later always to be avoided.