Friendship...

A functioning community of friends is a valuable gift, and should be managed as such. Joining and separating members is the most difficult process. Sometimes professional referees are involved, in the personage of leaders of spiritual communities. Most typically, the community, when approached, will select existing members to establish new relationships. When the stability and value of those relationships is established, the new candidate (or candidates, if a family is attached) will be welcomed fully into the circle of friends.

If this brings to mind a picture of soap bubbles, that is a good analogy. Soap bubbles merge and reform continuously. When agitated, the larger bubbles may break up into smaller bubbles. At any point in the foam, the suspended sheet of soap may belong to two bubbles, with many other bubbles nearby, perhaps even with small bubbles hanging in suspension in the sheet.

In making the assessment to join a new member, the opinion of the community should not be controlled by emotional response or the charisma of the candidate. It is important to ensure that some concrete result can be attributed to the relationship. Otherwise, the decision to open the circle of friends can be manipulated by someone interested in gaining entry only to exploit the value stored in the community. Particular concern should be felt when the candidate invests too much energy in the initial relationship, particularly when that investment results in unwelcome isolation of the existing member from the community.

Separating a dysfunctional member from the community is difficult. Some believe in the "short, sharp shock." Others will slowly and conscientiously restrict access to the community, forcing the separating member to seek other sources of support. If not done carefully, the community can find itself exposed to emotional and social blackmail, as information obtained during the privileged involvement with the community is applied to increase the cost of separation. When the process is painful enough, physical violence often seems to be the only recourse to recreate the stability lost when the member first became an insupportable liability to the community.

Learning to manage these processes at an early age is critical. They are unavoidable, and it is best for everyone involved if they are looked at as new beginnings, rather than as terminations. They rarely are: modern societies have safety nets to support people in transition between communities, and it is wise for a community to create a history of magnanimity that decreases the fear of the departing member. A graceful separation usually creates good will in the community that results in the provision of resources, though often at a distance, that help the departing members re-establish themselves in a new context, and that supports re-entry should their difficulties subside, or the community finding itself in pressing need of their particular skills.