United by a Common Interest
In my previous post, I wrote about the simplest and purest form of friendship; the play-centered relationship of little children. This relationship is good. It requires almost no sacrifice, and leads to much happiness. But, the friendships of little children cannot compare in significance to those of mature adults. That is the direction we are heading. The next two posts, including this one, will take us from children to young adults. After that, once we have reached a certain measure of maturity, I will focus on specific aspects of adult friendship. And finally, I will bring it all together with my personal reflection on the joy of true friendship.
Gathering around a common interest is an occurrence that doesn’t end once we reach maturity, but I believe that it does have a beginning in childhood. As children, we begin to develop interests. Where these interests come from is the subject of much debate. The sociologist might say that gender roles and various other societal pressures are at the heart of development. Others may claim that it has more to do with our biological composition (brain, chemicals, the result of evolution), which translates into our various tastes and preferences. Regardless of how or from where these preferences develop, no one can argue that they exist. All of that to make a simple point; children are drawn to certain things over others.
I believe that children are first drawn to the object of interest before they are drawn to those who share their interest. Of course, there are occasions when a child will imitate a sibling or cousin in their interest, and over time learn to like that thing due to simple exposure. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen. What I’m saying is that the gateway to new relationships in childhood is found in shared interests.
Before I go any further, I want to address something. Often, children are placed in certain clubs or sports teams when their parents recognize an interest in the child. I was a cub scout, I played soccer and baseball, and I bowled. That being said, I didn’t particularly have a significant interest in these things. I liked them well enough to do them in most cases, but left to my own devices I wouldn’t pursue them with much passion. Many children do have a passion for these clubs and teams, and they find friends with similar passion. But in my case, I didn’t want to take them home. My real interests were located elsewhere.
For better or worse, the two most significant interests that I held as a child were in Star Wars and video games. Sure enough it was through these things that I found my closest childhood friends. The first time I met John, I was feeling sick on the bus. He was close to me so I turned to him and asked, “Kid, can you tell the bus driver that I’m going to throw up?” John responded like a second grader (we were second graders) and attempted to ignore me. That was the beginning of a long friendship. A few years later, we were in the same class and learned that we shared an interest in video games. Much of that early time was spent playing or discussing them. Around that time I brought a Star Wars book on the bus. A boy named Tim noticed and expressed his shared interest in the movies. We quickly became good friends. In both cases there was a lot of crossover between Star Wars and video games, and other things. I don’t want you to think that we never played outside.
At that time in my life I wasn’t thinking about how nice it would be to have friends. If anything, I just wanted to have fun and play with my action figures and video games, or watch movies. If someone happened to like the same things, we could like those things together. Over time, I realized that pursuing my interests with other people could increase the fun. And over time I found that friends can be more than people who happen to like what you like.
Many friendships throughout life begin with a common interest. The thing is, if they remain only that, the friendship itself stays shallow and lacks much joy. There has to be a shift in focus from the thing to the person. If liking the same things with the people I know was a qualifier for friendship, I would have over one hundred friends. But I don’t have nearly that many, despite what Facebook says. Most of the people we socialize with are acquaintances. Some of them can even be good acquaintances. But there is a gulf between a good acquaintance and a true friend. As we progress, I hope to make the difference more clear.
Our next stop in the maturation process will bring us to high school. Oh, high school.
Enter the land of cliques.
Be on the lookout for Part 3