The perils of “I cannot displease my Best Friend” syndrome has recently been illustrated by the indictment of a chief minister and her so called soul-sister. Assuming a hypothetical situation where we give the deceased chief minister (CM) the benefit of doubt of having no personal greed for ill-gotten wealth, the story could be presented thus – Past the prime of her movie career, a lonely personal life following the death of her mother and failed love affairs and facing political oblivion post her mentor’s death, she found emotional, mental and probably muscle-power support in her friend. Once in power, she felt obliged to payback her crafty bestie, who then goes on to amass unimaginable wealth and exert incredible authority over craven ministers. And in spite of repeated fallouts, their friendship survived till death did them apart. Eventually as the Supreme Court judgment convicted both women in the disproportionate assets case, the only saving grace for the ex-chief minister was that she did not live to hear the judgment and would have probably defended herself in the grave saying – “All this ignominy for not being able to say “NO” to my best friend.”
But is this an isolated incident or something which can be traced to child psychology in craving for a best friend, where in some cases, one child is submissive to the other. A special childhood friend has been a constant motif in children’s literature and movies (Bolly/Holly etc). All those who have experienced the delightful world of “Swami & Friends” by R K Narayan, would well recall the protagonist’s equation with his two best friends. In this tale, Swami, an absolutely lovable character is dominated by his 2 best friends – Mani & Rajam. Completely in awe of them, he finds it difficult to counter or go against their wishes and this often lands him in trouble.
And do we need best friends?
Humans, and children in particular, naturally find themselves forming special friendships. My daughter’s school has the practice of putting her in a different section with a new set of children every year. Though initially she would miss her Best Friend of the previous year, she would quickly bond with her new classmates. So, probably this practice encourages her to have “lots of good friends” and helps avoid overly possessive relationships and upsetting fall-outs.
The alternative view as presented by philosopher Mark Vernon is that “friendship is an issue in a culture of democratization”. Humans are not wired to be democratic in their relationships and instinctively seek intimate relationships. By putting the spotlight on the negative aspects of close friendships, there is a possibility of emotionally stunting children and their experiences. Children or for that matter even adults may fall out with their best friends or get jilted/cheated, but somewhere they also learn to cope and survive socially.
And as parents, we watch and live through the tumult our children experience as their friendships become more complex, layered and emotionally fraught varying from extraordinary intimacy and bewildering cruelty.