When friendship is formed, or broken, based on material values
THE HEADLINE OF JULIA SURYAKUSUMA’S recent article, “When Dead Friends Make You Love Life, and Live Ones,” in JPlus caught my attention because I have been wrestling with my own questions of what constitutes real friendship and respect among people.
I seemed to get along well with one friend, who like me started out as a reporter in a media outlet. His career, however, seemed to advance quicker than mine and it wasn’t long before he jumped ship for a “bigger fish”. His life suddenly changed, and he made a whole new circle of friends in high places.
He began criticizing me for never planning my career carefully, causing me to get “stuck” (when compared to him). He started to count my sins, i.e. my “crappy” standard of living, while bragging about his comfortable life. While I could no longer stand this person, I also started to fade into oblivion for him, because I was nothing compared to his cool friends anyway.
I am not alone in my experience. My colleague also told me recently how socioeconomic advancement quickly turned her friend into a stranger (her polite expression for a “snob”) who constantly belittles her for not having a car or private home.
I also get nervous at the prospect of coming home this Christmas. At gatherings, family members, instead of lending support and strength to one another, sometimes end up bragging about their material achievements. I especially can’t stand my foster parents, who, with or without ill-intentions, keep putting me down for spending “years working” and yet remaining begini-begini saja (a nobody).
I love what I do. Maybe my friends and family are right about the money, but I will not trade my job for anything. Plus, I believe that writing is a skill we can use for the rest of our lives. I see senior journalists who still write and make money well into their 60s, using their skills while so many of their retired peers worry constantly about money.
More of a concern to me is what I observe around me, especially after I “graduated” into adulthood. During childhood or adolescence, friends are still more or less sincere. There are, of course, vested interests. But they are still very simple: you want to befriend a popular guy/gal in order to be considered popular too; you want to befriend a smart guy so that he will do your homework (I was the “smart guy” during my college years).
But the fakeness and hypocrisy I observe in adulthood friendships and relationships disturb me. Ibu Martha Tilaar told me during an interview that when she was still poor, she was often looked down upon by others. When she gained her first success in the beauty business, many people suddenly wanted to be her friend. When her business went into a slump, unfortunately, these people were nowhere to be found.
“I never lost faith; I kept on praying and thankfully was given a daughter, a true gift and source of strength for me after everybody left me and my business failed. That’s when I learned that God is the only one we can depend on in our lives,” she told me.
I also interviewed a writer who gained unbelievable success after years of seemingly fruitless labor. “Now, many people ngaku-ngaku (claim) to be her friends. When she was still struggling and a nobody, where were they? Where were they when she needed them most?” her male friend told me.
There is a religious wisdom which says that in truth, our true temptation comes not when we are downtrodden and suffering. It comes when we enjoy great success and feel as if we are immune to misfortune.
If there’s anything positive from all this melancholy and disillusionment with human kindness, it is its cautionary lesson: If I ever become successful one day, I hope that I will always remember to keep both feet on the ground; God forbid that I get so lost in my own arrogance that I find nobody at home when a crisis does strike me.