By Matt Hose
It took a road trip up the coast of California for me to understand one of Aristotle’s lessons, a lesson of friendship.
In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle wrote that there are three types of friendships: friendship of utility, friendship of pleasure and friendship of the good.
Friends of utility are the ones who are useful to you. If you do not have a car and are friendly to someone solely for the reason that he or she does have a car, then that is a friend of use. The friend of pleasure is one with whom you enjoy doing activities, such as surfing, making music or the “friends with benefits” status that becomes popular in college (though it is certainly up for debate as to whether a friend with benefits is a friend of utility or one of pleasure).
These first two types of friendship, Aristotle says, are easily dissolved once the circumstances surrounding them change or when the friends become separated.
The friendship of the good, on the other hand, is one in which each person seeks to maximize the good of the other person in every way. In other words, it is not a selfish friendship. It is one in which you always want to do good for your friend without thought of reciprocation.
So, the question for everyone is: how do we determine which of our friends belongs to which category?
In college, where many of my conversations are reduced to Howyadoin-s and how-was-ya-weekend-s, it can be difficult to sieve out the people who would be friends to the end from the ones that are just along for the ride.
I argue that the best way to find out which category a friend belongs in is through a road trip.
At least, that was the way I found out. I took a road trip this Spring Break to Portland and Seattle.
Our vessel was a white truck that was made in 2006 but could have just as easily been made in the 1970s. It has an old-fashioned crank window that squeaks and creaks as you muscle it up. The door does not shut all the way, making the car sound like a hurricane when it reaches speeds greater than 70 mph. The only source of electrical entertainment is an AM/FM radio which flickers in and out as you travel through the grapevine and under the monstrous redwoods of Northern California.
So, my travel companion and I set out for Portland in this car, and I put Aristotle’s ideas to the test in my own mind. What kind of friend was she?
It occurred to me that long stretches of road would be difficult with a friend of pleasure, and nearly impossible with a friend of use. With a friend of pleasure, the circumstances surrounding the friendship would disappear in a car. As long bouts of silence undoubtedly take hold on trips that can last 12 hours each day, the friendship would unravel and the two travelers would realize that their interests do not always align.
For the friend of pleasure, conversation is a means to an end. It is what you occupy your time with on the way to a new surf spot so you can get that new experience. Silence is killer with these friends.
With the friend of good, conversation itself is an end. As you drive along winding stretches of road, the less meaningful conversations are filtered out from your dialogue. You feel physically and mentally secure with expanses of time without conversation, and only make conversation when it is something truly important to you, or something new and interesting. Those are the kinds of friendships that can last a lifetime.
With these friends, you can tailor yourself to fit with the personality of the other person.
I found out on that trip that my friend was a friend of the good. Instead of playing car games, we could make up car games. We tried to see who could scream loudest when passing various livestock; we read aloud from hilarious books by David Sedaris.
In the end, a relationship placed inside of the vessel of a car can either crumble or it can form a stronger bond. It all just depends on the friend that you are around.