My Anthropology class is taught by one of my favorite professors, a WELS Lutheran Pastor who grew up on an Apache Indian reservation. One day in class he said that Apaches were into "being," as opposed to modern mainstream Americans, who are into "becoming." That is, a typical American is always becoming the next thing in his life: a student becoming a teacher or an expert or whatever, a single person becoming married, etc. Apaches, on the other hand, are content with what life offers them at the present moment, and are less worried about tomorrow. Thus it becomes hard, for example, to approach an Apache about becoming a pastor, since that takes planning (one must account for college and four years of seminary), and planning of a type that Apaches are not familiar with.
In the book Soulmates, Thomas Moore writes a very philosophical, literary sort of advice pamphlet on the subject of love in the modern world. In the introduction Moore claims that he will not offer any answers, setting his book apart from pretty much every other book on the subject currently in print, and providing a refreshing change even from the better of Christian books on the subject, like Wild at Heart. Moore claims instead that he will offer alternative ways of looking at matters of the heart, ways which will hopefully shed new and helpful light on the subject. I have only managed to read two chapters, because I am busy and it is heady stuff which requires digestion, but my mind already feels like it has been twisted in knots--or turned loose from some.
In Moore's book, he talks about the legend of Daphne and Apollo. To grossly oversimplify and somewhat bastardize what Moore says: the legend goes that Daphne fled from Apollo into the forest, and Apollo pursued her. Finally, he caught her, but Artemis, the goddess of whom Daphne was an aspect, took pity on Daphne, and Daphne was turned into a tree by the side of a river, and Apollo could never reach her. Moore says that Daphne represents the "spirit," the part of us that wants to dream, to fly free, to be a world traveler, to be independent. Apollo represents the "soul," the part of us that longs for connection, that longs for companionship. The soul, according to Moore, is the valleys to the spirit's mountains; the soul is about the nitty-gritty, the stuff of real life.
Everyone apparently has some of both Daphne and Apollo in them. There is a part of all of us which wants to be free, which balks (for example) at the idea of being tied to another person. And there is another part in all of us whose greatest desire is that other person, is to be together with someone else, forever.
As will come as no surprise to those who know me, I tend to fall heavily in with the Daphne. While I love my friends, and miss them when I'm apart from them, it does not take a whole lot--very little, by some peoples' standards--for me to have a surfeit of them, and to need or at least to want to get away, to be by myself. I have too much Daphne in me to want a relationship, for its own sake; it takes a special person to make me even consider wanting to date, to court, or whatever. ('Special' doesn't always mean 'good,' but that's another topic.) Maybe I have too much of the Daphne side to be able to have a successful relationship, at least at the moment. Whatever. Not really the current point.
All this is basically prelude. The thing that has occurred to me recently to throw this into focus is a distinction that echoes or harmonizes with the above, or possibly it does both. The topic is friends, which topic tends to be at the forefront of every college student's mind (schoolwork generally running a distant second). What has occurred to me is this: there are friends who are content with you as you are, and there are friends who want to change you. (Note: I don't like the rhetorical second person accusatory, but it feels most natural here; if one didn't like it, one could change the you's to one's, and make it third person.)
I am not offering judgment here, saying that one type is better than another. I'm just observing. There are certain friends who will take you, bad habits, foot odor, nerdy references and all; and there are certain friends who, if they are good friends, will love you and be good friends but will try to get you to stop smoking and wash your feet better and not discuss the Aeneid with 8-year-olds.
Another way of stating it, one that I dislike because of the judgment implied but one which shows the distinction clearly, is this: Some people love you for who you are; some people love you for who you could be. A third category, now that I think about it, is that some people love you for who they THINK you are. This last is the genesis of many a misguided crush; in the fog of infatuation, the real shape of a person can become obscured, sometimes on purpose, and can be imagined to be whatever one wants it to be. Actually, it strikes me that this third is just a subset of the second category. But again I digress.
One of the two sides is not necessarily better than the other; mostly it's a matter of personal preference. I come down strongly on the side of be-ers, on the side of accepting people as they are, faults and flaws intact, and being accepted similarly. And while idealism is not necessarily a bad thing, and self-improvement certainly something to be sought, ultimately a good friend is going to have to do some amount of being, of accepting that we are all flawed and that some of that is not going to get better, no matter how much it should, no matter how much we might want it to. Moore says this:
We may think that "it's only right and proper" that a person change her ways and that her soul be something other than what it is, but this kind of thinking moves us away from the person's own nature. Sometimes it appears that there is more moralism in the field of psychology than there is in religion.
I find that people who have experienced depravity in one way or another--seen what great depths of sin either they or someone they love dearly can fall into--have an easier time accepting people as they are; it often takes a less experienced person to maintain high expectations of others. (This is, again, not a dig at idealists: an idealist who has been through such fire and come out still idealistic is often quite a remarkable person.)
In the end, of course, we each have our own trials. Idealists must struggle to accept sinners, and not to judge; the rest of us must struggle not to lose our values in knowing we cannot live up to them.