Last week, I got a chance to watch the film that I had longed to see: The Untouchables. As many of you already know, it is based on the true story of the friendship of two unlikely companions who respectively represent the highest and the lowest rungs of the social ladder.
They are polar opposites in social and physical mobility. One is a French quadriplegic aristocrat and the other a robust penniless immigrant. What could they have in common? What could bring the two minds together? What do two people need to become friends?
The film seems to give a rather plain answer to the time-old question. It suggests that the answer lies in meeting others’ needs with what you already have. Each one has what the other lacks. Watching their friendship developing, I could not help asking one question which I had received long before: Am I a wall-maker or a bridge-maker?
I was told that there are two types of people: While the bridge-makers help people around them to build friendships, the wall-makers turn others off. It seems quite obvious that one cannot be both at the same time. As we all know, it takes courage to both open oneself to others and to grab a helping hand. And as the film hints, no one is too poor to afford to give, or no one too rich to afford not to receive.
In the midst of the competitive atmosphere on campus, it is not easy to make friends with whom you can freely share your thoughts and feelings. At times, people around you look confident and competent and seem to have no room for you. You might feel that you lag behind others. Naturally, it becomes hard to find approachable companions since we tend to avoid developing a close friendship with seemingly too competent and competitive people. In general, we instinctively feel intimidated and threatened by such people. However, we soon learn that many feel left out and lonely on campus. It still seems to be a truth universally acknowledged that making friends in university takes much effort than in high school. However, people around you have missing pieces only you can fill in as much as you need others to do the same to you.
C.S. Lewis also pointed out “What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it.” Only one condition: Friends share the same enduring value. Period. There are no other conditions at all. Perhaps we need to simplify our much longer and unnecessary complicated lists of conditions for entering into friendship. Remember, you already have what is needed and much more to make friends. Just be a friend in need.
* Professor Lee Hyun-kyung is teaching in the English Program Office (EPO) at Ewha. She is currently writing her Ph. D dissertation on African American women writers.