The Oddity of Friendship


Seneca, Roman philosopher

In the world of entertainment there are fans and super fans, all of which become “friends” in social media. In the world of business there are co-workers and managers, also listed as “friends” in social media. This is also true in religion, government and education.

But is it meaningful?

How friendship looks through the eyes of 21st century inhabitants seems to be dictated by mobile devices. The art of friendship has disintegrated through the politically correct posturing of social media and the lack of personal attention given to others.

My recent trip to Michigan in support of a long time friend caused me to wonder how many of my “friends” I would support through their grief. More perplexing to my psyche was the question about which ones might support me.

I came to realize that the depths of friendships we have are solely of our own making. Oh, it’s a two way street through the give and take of life events as they unfold, but we still choose our friends. We also determine how much vulnerability and intimacy we bring to each relationship.

I heard one person say that they only look for friends that will not judge them. Yet, everyone judges whether or not a person is worthy of his or her time and friendship, and rightfully so, as we only have time for a couple intimate friends.

The first-century Roman philosopher, Seneca, wrote letters on the two pillars of friendship: “a friend is a person with whom (one) may be sincere;” and, “one who seeks friendship for favorable occasions, strips it of all its nobility.”

I’m all too familiar with the person who wants to strike up a friendship to advance their career or social status. Fair-weathered friends are far more common than most think and happens within all levels of society. We can even lower our standards for the sake of what we too can draw from a relationship.

But let me be clear, I’m not condemning partnerships designed to move businesses forward or give life to charities, but rather I’m speaking to that intimate level of friendship that we all desire deep within our hearts. I’m speaking to the friendship where each involved will willfully give their life for their friend should circumstances require such a compassionate resolve.

True deep friendship is not about what we might gain from the other person. It’s about what we give of ourselves to maintain the relationship.

Seneca said, “He who regards himself only, and enters upon friendships for this reason, reckons wrongly.”

My recent travel out of state was a seed sown into my friendship that may or may not ever be reciprocated. I was okay with that idea, as I was giving to the friendship not drawing from it. The day I need to draw from it will come soon enough in the scope of life’s ups and downs, but for now I needed to make a compassionate deposit.

Seneca had additional thoughts on how to capture more true friends than false ones when he said, “If you consider any man a friend whom you do not trust as you trust yourself, you are mightily mistaken and you do not sufficiently understand what true friendship means… When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment. Those persons indeed put last first and confound their duties, who … judge a man after they have made him their friend, instead of making him their friend after they have judged him. Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul. Speak as boldly with him as with yourself… Regard him as loyal and you will make him loyal.”

Judging a person by their character and ability to maintain information as a confidant is of great value when deciding to let them into your heart for a meaningful relationship. Guarding your heart from those who don’t qualify for intimacy is even more critical.

Over the past few years I’ve met many good listeners and people of good report. The character of many has caused me to step up my personal efforts. But, finding a person who will not share my inner most thoughts with another person has come up empty all too often.

Most people of good character, in the name of love and wanting what’s best for me, report back to someone who tries to watch over me. Oh, I don’t mind a mentor or two, but I long for that one person who will keep my comments to themselves—someone who is willing to be a true friend.

The oddity of friendship is perplexing. We all have lots of secondary friends that are of great value. We have even more fair-weathered friends who support us circumstantially, which can be helpful. But, so few of us have that one friend who will keep our deepest, darkest secrets.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Love Triangle (or Box)

Love TriangleYoung filmmakers rarely use a love triangle within their movies. They miss the tremendous amount of conflict and story development that rises naturally from the mix. Their eyes are closed to the internal stories tumbling within the souls of each character and how it externally manifests itself in humor and drama.

Relationship triangles in life happen more times than we admit. But, I’ve experienced the dreaded relationship “box” and found the experience stranger than fiction. However, the true elements from within the experience make great tools for interesting movies.

I spent a couple summers in high school and college at my family cottage on beautiful Bughs Lake. It was a small lake that perfectly reflected its surroundings until the ducks flew in, putting ripples in the water just before dinner.

There were four of us that hung out together. Sue was the most beautiful, the smartest and most charismatic. She had the artistically sculpted legs of a dancer and a personality that could keep people entertained for hours. Her cousin Lori was also hot with well-toned muscles and a deep tan. She was the most energetic of the group and pumped life into every room she entered.

David lived one lake over and joined us numerous times for whatever the day’s activity would bring. He was a jock that looked like a California surfer and turned every head. We had a blast water skiing together and cruising around trying to figure out how we could win the hearts of Sue and Lori.

When the four of us hit the nightlife together, we were the most fun group in town. This was partly due to the group dynamics and we simply had lots of fun, which was contagious. But there was one other factor that stimulated interest. No one knew who might someday have the chance to date whom. It was like being in a lover’s triangle of sorts. But I’ll call it a four-cornered box to make my point to filmmakers.

I wanted to spend as much time with Sue as possible. Although our time together was limited to practicing dance for clubbing and planning how we could connect her with David. I wanted Sue to be happy, so I did everything possible to persuade him, but David was fixated on Lori. And yet, I was the one Lori invited to her prom – Forming a box.

I’m not sure if Sue ever dated David, or if he ever dated Lori, but I was pulled out of the mix. In fact, my family situation escalated with one crisis after another until it culminated in the selling of the cottage. With all the emotional turmoil I faced and the overwhelming responsibilities dumped in my lap, I lost touch of everyone. My last memory of Lori was when I totally messed up her after prom swimming event and never had the guts to apologize.

I never reconnected with David. And as for Sue, I eventually noticed her on stage during a performance my wife and I attended. She and her husband were professional dancers that traveled with the show. I took my wife backstage so we could reminisce for five minutes in between Sue’s performances. My wife felt a bit awkward since Sue was far more gorgeous than I had ever described. But it was okay because Sue and I were never more than summer friends and dance partners.

Love triangles, whether real or only perceived by a character, fuels internal struggles that launch external actions. Some are filled with humor and others drama, but in either case an audience is captivated until the end of the story.

In addition, the director can take turns revealing something first to the audience, while keeping the character in the dark, or vice a versa. This shifting of patterns also creates great interest in seeing the story to its conclusion.

For instance, let’s say our relationship box only existed from the perspective of my character, which is probably true in real life as well. Maybe Lori never liked me enough to date, but couldn’t stand the kids at her school. Because of our group friendship she trusted me enough to escort her to prom. In other words, she was just drawing from our friendship with nothing more in mind.

If the audience knows her request was just one of friendship, but my character was convinced she liked him, he’d find himself in awkward moments – Trying to avoid getting too close for fear of losing focus on Sue. Or, maybe she really likes him and uses the friendship to leverage an opportunity, but he’s so blinded by his false hope for Sue that he misses his opportunity with Lori.

Now, keeping the triangle/box idea in play, we can see that the only person that stands a chance at winning is David. He could realize what Sue has to offer and change his focus, or he could finally get Lori to slow down enough for him to win her heart. The audience then feels sorry for my character, as he slowly walks off into the sunset alone.

The reason love triangles work in movies is because they force the storyteller to reveal things about each character to a depth that stirs the audience. The viewers learn to care about the characters and want to see how things work out. The triangle technique develops the characters beyond the two dimensional stereotypes that reveals both internal and external circumstances.

Multi-dimensional characters always draw an audience and build the fan base for a sequel. The simple interaction between each character’s goals is enough to drive interest for a 90-minute stretch of story.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Emotional Beat of Story Changes Audiences

captain-americaAnimators almost have a corner on the structural elements required to emotionally impact an audience. While all filmmakers have the same opportunity to develop emotional storytelling techniques, animators were forced to learn the skills in order to give life to inanimate objects.

I produced my first animation in college. The experience caused me to stumble upon the key elements necessary to stir the audience’s emotions. The story must contain the “what” and “how” of a character to hook the audience. The “what” is the main character’s want or what he’s fighting for. The “how” is the action it takes to obtain it.

Strong stories have a proactive main character with an internal conflict. As he chases after his “what,” he experiences the internal conflict being played out in his external world. It’s not until he solves the internal conflict that he can solve the external conflict. The decisions that he makes toward this resolution not only plays out the “how,” but it also sends him on a journey that leads him to being born again—he becomes a new person.

This rebirth is also experienced by the audience, giving them the same tools for life that the main character experiences. This new life doesn’t mean the character gets his “what,” but it does mean he gets his “need.” In other words, the character doesn’t get what he was chasing, but he gets something better. He gets what he truly needed, even if he didn’t know he needed it.

The goal of every director is to entertain the audience and once they are receptive, direct their attention to the emotional core of the story. This changes the audience’s lives. Unfortunately, most rookie directors have no idea how to get the audience invested enough into the main character that his life tools become the tools of the audience.

But it’s not a secret. The core of every story demonstrates the essence of the director’s intent, whether he is privy to his own heart or not. The choice narrative in of itself holds the key.

Seymore Chatman, an American Film and literary critic said that form or narrative structure, “communicates meaning in its own right, over and above the paraphrasable contents of its story.”

This is why films like Captain America can win more people over to ideals like God and country, wholesome living, and righteous standards than most faith-based films.

In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers is a “flawed man” because he lives with real and honest character traits from the 1940s. He doesn’t fit into our modern superficial politically correct society. He has to figure out if he’s going to continue living with old world ethics or change. His struggle takes us on journey. We experience people making fun of him because he doesn’t swear. He is also laughed at and makes enemies for sacrificially and unconditionally giving of himself for a friend. But by the end of the journey he decides to hold to his convictions—The audience making the same decision for their own lives.

war-roomIn the successful faith-based film, War Room, Elizabeth is not a “flawed woman,” but her husband is battling temptations. Elizabeth doesn’t have to work through any obstacles to change, she only has to learn how to pray to save her husband from temptation. As a result, Elizabeth gains one tool (the power of prayer) for her life utility belt. The audience does not accept the tool because we never see her battle and overcome obstacles that give value to the power of prayer. We see that she only needs to put in her time and God answers her prayers.

Unfortunately in real life many prayers go unanswered, or the answer is “No.” We don’t get to see Elizabeth struggle through unanswered prayers and how they change her perspective for the good, creating a greater value in prayer than a god catalog order. Having her face unanswered prayer and finding the fortitude to continue praying anyway demonstrates to the audience how important it is to pray regardless of the outcome—a tool everyone would like to have in their life utility belt.

There is, however, one controversial scene where Elizabeth speaks out loud to the devil. Some might say this is a moment of her working through a struggle to overcome adversity and reveal the power of prayer, but its not. The scene only shows that by speaking prayerfully out loud you can also succeed by causing the devil to flee. Elizabeth doesn’t overcome any flaws or grow internally through adversity in any way, thereby not passing on any life tools to the audience.

Story is about change and growth. It’s also about redemption of our flaws being reworked to make us heroes, which all audiences want to implement in their own lives. Most importantly, it’s about instilling the value of the theme in the hearts of the viewers. When each of these things is in place, audiences add significant positive change and life tools to their life utility belts.

The irony is that the makers of faith-based films know the exact tools needed for people to live fulfilling lives, yet they don’t create stories that give these great tools to the audience. In the mean time, Hollywood, who knows little about life tools, makes great stories that hand both uplifting and destructive tools to the audience.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers