The Good Friendship Compass
I took a class last semester called “The Good Life” and for my final assignment I created a “Good Friendship Compass” which was supposed to create a path toward being a good friend according to the four spheres of activity, Dharma, Moksha, Artha, and Kama. Classical Indian philosophy might be a bit of a niche topic, but this has always been an unconventional blog. Enjoy.
The Good Friendship Compass
What does friendship look like? There are so many different kinds of friends in the world and so many different ways to be a friend to someone. What does it mean to be a good friend or a bad friend? Is a friend still a friend if you haven’t talked to them in six months? If you’ve never met them in person? If you don’t know how to pronounce their name because you’ve only ever seen it written down? How does one take the measure of being a good friend?
Kama: Friendship as Pleasure
When considering how to apply friendship in the Kama sphere, one should think about the pleasures of friendship. Common interests. Sharing experiences with friends. Do you like the same TV shows, movies, books? Kama is about cultivating tastes and interests in things, and when sharing that with someone else in a friendship that means that one is focusing on bonding with another person. In a way, Kama is the shared-interest glue that holds many friendships, especially casual acquaintanceships together. Kama is also about the pleasure gained in sharing the company of another person, the pleasure from being in the presence of someone else. Sometimes that is physical pleasure in the case of sex, but also just from the intimacy of sharing space with someone in a way that brings comfort.
Artha: Friendship as Success
Friends want to see friends succeed. There is that common saying that “it’s about who you know.” Networking is key. Friendship is the cornerstone to success. Building genuine connections and bonds between people, working across and creating communities that care for one another, is foundationational to success. Striving to earn success, and to gain it for your friends and those you care about is intrinsic to the experience of many people. Many if not all of the most successful people are successful because of friends who helped them along the way.
Dharma: Friendship as holding things together
Friendship, through a certain lens, can be seen as a relationship between people belonging to a social group, individuals who form a whole when brought together. Each friend brings something to the group, whether it be two friends, or a complex group of people in a community of friends. Each one of them brings something to the relationship and contributes to the power dynamic between them that is inherent to themselves, based on their personality and the identities they hold. The unique combinations they form when together creates a new group that is an amalgamation of the groups that the friends belong to.
Moksha: Friendship as release
Each of the other lenses through which we view friendship contains a kind of striving, and inherent in that striving is a social contract of exchange between friends. In Kama we strive to share pleasures with friends. In Artha we strive to share success with friends. In Dharma we strive to balance and exchange status, reputation, and favor with friends. In Moksha, we find release from that striving and seeking the social contract of exchange in friendship. The friendship of Moksha is the release of expectation from friends; it is the idea that at a certain point in friendship, friends rise beyond the need for mutual exchange and can coexist without the need to give and take from one another.
How to enact the Good Friendship Compass
Initiating friendship typically comes from the spheres of Kama, Artha, or Dharma. A friendship might initiate in Kama when people meet because of a common interest bringing them together in the form of a book or TV show, at a fan meetup or an event celebrating the media property. A friendship might start in Artha when two friends meet in a professional setting such as a job, a conference, or a business enrichment program. Then there are the Dharma friendships, begun because someone is a family member, or friend of the family one is born into, a neighbor one grew up with, or a schoolmate. Wherever the friendship starts, robust friendships are capable of growing into all spheres.
Some types of relationships might need to be contained in one sphere — it is not necessary to be friends with everyone to the same degree all the time — and so containing certain kinds of relationships to each sphere is possible.
A friend contained to Kama might be someone with whom you discuss the latest episode of your favorite show, but you would not talk to them about anything outside the scope of your shared interests. Similarly, a friend connected via Artha might be someone that you trusted to help you land a new job, or someone that you would help if they needed a babysitter, but you don’t have very much in common outside of work or academics. And a friend in Dharma could be a cousin, or the partner of a sibling, and you might be so close as to frequently share meals and perhaps exchange polite gifts, but are not significantly close otherwise.
But for the closest friends, those with whom we wish to reach Moksha, it is necessary to engage all the spheres.
For friendships that begin in Kama, such as two people who bond over their favorite book series online, it is necessary to expand the boundaries of friendship beyond sharing pleasures with one another to exchanging successes with one another, by helping each other succeed and providing support in other endeavors, engaging in Artha. Consider scenario one: two friends are writers, each send each other listings when outlets are accepting pitches, and offer to edit the other’s work. It is also necessary to engage those friends in Dharma, by integrating them into the complex inner social groups of one’s life and the hierarchy that keeps one’s life together. The two friends could engage in creating a monthly writing critique group, arranging a permanent space where they interacted with each other and others in a community setting.
For friendships that begin in Artha, it is necessary to not only share in successes, but also open up to developing and cultivating common interests between friends, in order to share pleasure in each other’s company. And again, friends must be integrated into the complex inner social groups of one’s life. Consider scenario two: the two people start as coworkers at one company and stay in touch after leaving, writing references for one another, and getting together once a week to watch their favorite show when it airs. They then start a podcast and online community about the show.
For friendships that began in Dharma, common interests must again be cultivated and established, and successes must be shared between friends. Finally, consider scenario three: two cousins could bond over their favorite book series, having conversations about it through their unique lens on their shared podcast. They could then create an online community which serves as an intersectional creative hub and network.
In all of these cases, to reach Moksha, the end goal is for friendships to become aligned with all of the spheres, so that friendships contain elements of each sphere within them, no matter their origin and no matter which way they skew. Even if the spheres are not equal, balance in the spheres is not necessary, but alignment in making sure that they fit together is critical in order to reach Moksha, the point at which friendship can be elevated and none of the spheres will be consistently necessary for the friendship to survive.
Moksha is the point at which a friendship is iron-clad; this is the friendship where two people can be distant for months at a time and pick up right where they left off. It is the deepest of friendships, where a friendship is central to the being of each person in the relationship. In any of the three scenarios above, the friends are capable of reaching Moksha after an extended time in their relationship with one another, and indeed there are a multitude of different friendships outside of these scenarios in which people can reach Moksha.
This is not a comprehensive guide to friendship, but I hope that in the creation of this Good Friendship Compass I have created something which others can glean insight into the different and expansive ways in which friendship can form and thrive through the different spheres of activity.